All Too Human – An Evening with Clarence Darrow
Good news for all you academics out there – history class can be fun again. And good news for you legal buffs – there is a lawyer who still cares. You can find him at the 45th Street Theater, where Henry Miller presents, All Too Human – An Evening with Clarence Darrow.
A one-man show, Miller provides a delightfully candid, skillfully performed discussion of the lawyer’s life and work. In the intimate, dimly lit theatre, wearing a rumpled gray suit, red suspenders and slightly scuffed shoes, he strolls the stage, chatting about his life.
First a laborer, then a lawyer, Darrow made a name for himself with his high-profile cases. He fought against social repressions and attempted to protect civil liberties. He defended murderers, protecting them from the death penalty. Looking back on his life, he tells the audience the stories of his fights to defend religious tolerance, and a fighter of capital punishment in a refreshingly plainspoken manner.
Standing in the middle of the stage, he discusses his life. Standing to the right of the stage, he demonstrates his life. With a simple shift of lighting and tone, he goes from being comfortably ensconced in his living room, lounging in a leather armchair to striding the floor of the courtroom, expounding his theories of justice and humanity.
He is appropriately jaded – perhaps a bit too much so. “By nature, I’m cheerful,” he tells his listeners. “It’s by intellect that I’m pessimistic.”
He tells us his perspective of the occasion when he was caught bribing a member of the jury. He confesses that he was unfaithful to both of his wives. While he does admit it, he does not apologize for it. His definitions of right and wrong, and good and bad, are perhaps slightly different from others’.
“How do we get the law?” he asks. “Is it good and clear, like Heaven, or something like sausage, that we don’t know what’s in it?”
He is unable to provide an answer to the ambiguity.
The words “courtroom” and “drama” are inevitably linked, but that description does not suit this show. While it is a show about a lawyer, is not about what happened in the courtroom. It is about how what happened in the courtroom affected the lawyer. Near the end of his life, after decades of trying cases and usually winning, Darrow is tired. And he is unsure if it is all worth it. After hearing the insider’s perspective, one has to wonder – is the law the noble profession some hope it to be? Or is it just another game?
While the content of the cases comes from history, their poignancy comes from Miller. As Darrow, he delivers and he delivers completely, giving an extremely honest and realistic performance. Every step, every nuance, every cynical smile and raise of an eyebrow is believable. This historical theatre truly takes one back in time and we see the history through the eyes of a human. Miller takes Darrow past what could easily be a stereotypical performance about a stereotypical man. His Darrow is tired and sad. He is flawed. He is, as he describes others to be, “All Too Human.”
The performance is historical, but it also provides a lesson in current events. It is frightening how timeless some of Darrow’s remarks are. When working at The Monkey Trial, he addressed the question of creation vs. evolution and what should be taught in the classroom. That question was being tried in 1925 and still is today.
“There’s hope for the country yet, eh?” he asks.
We certainly hope so.