A 94-year-old Manchester man will take the stage this weekend in the Holmdel Theatre Company's production of "Inherit the Wind."
Paul Nixon, a retired teacher and recipient of the Purple Heart for his service in the U.S. Army’s 88th Infantry Division in World War II, hails from the township and plays the part of the judge in the award-winning play based on 1925s "Scopes Monkey Trial."
"I saw 'Inherit the Wind' on Broadway in 1955," Nixon said. "After I retired from teaching and got active in community theater, I always hoped that I’d be able to play Brady or Henry Drummond (the character based on famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow and played by Michael Kroll.) But, a production of it never came up, until now."
The nonagenarian was seven years old during the time of the actual Scopes trial and doesn't remember the proceedings, he said. At five-foot, six inches tall and 120 pounds, Nixon, who received the New Jersey Community Theater Alliance's prestigious Perry Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance in the title role in "Visiting Mr. Green," said that he smokes a half a pack of cigarettes a day and enjoys several daily martinis.
The show opens this Friday, July 20, at the Duncan Smith Theater in Holmdel. The company of actors includes a father/daughter team (HTC alum Dave Murray and his daughter Ryan Murray, 12), two Holmdel students, (Theo Modla, 11, and Jon Erik Nielsen, 14), one recent Holmdel grad and HTC alum (Volney Stefflre), and two professional Equity Actors (Michael Irvin Pollard and Ed Schiff).
Schiff, who plays Matthew Harrison Brady, attorney for the prosecution, is also one of two senior members of the cast. He and Paul Nixon make a curious study in contrasts.
By contrast, Ed Schiff, 65, from Livingston, is well over 6 feet and tips in at about 240 pounds, which is just right for his bellow-voiced character. Schiff is a teetotaler, non-smoker, and held the anti-war position during the Vietnam days.
But what they have in common is a love of theater, history and this current play (as well as an hour long commute to Holmdel for rehearsals).
“I can remember being fascinated by the movie when it came out in 1960,” said Schiff, who is originally from Lakewood. “I went right to the Lakewood Public Library and gobbled up anything I could get my hands on about the Scopes Monkey Trial.”
Schiff is a professional actor with 40 years in Actors Equity, Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
"Inherit the Wind" has taken on new wings as the battle heats up once again between Creationism (Intelligent Design) and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. A recent poll showed that 42 percent of Americans believe in Creationism and that the world is no more than 6,000 years old.
“I couldn’t be a teacher and not acknowledge fossils that are tens of millions of years old,” Nixon said.
Schiff agrees with his colleague.
"I just can’t believe that so many Americans still can’t accept evolution,” he said, even though he argues nightly on stage for the other side.
Performances, directed by Tom Frascatore and produced by Rebecca Zaccagnino, are July 20, 21, 27, 28 and August 2, 3, 4 at 8:00 p.m. at the Holmdel Theatre Company, 36 Crawfords Corner Road, Holmdel. Matinees will be held on July 22 and 29 at 2:00 p.m.