INHERIT THE WIND, Boxer Rebellion Theater. Maybe the devil made the Boxer Rebellion do it. James Robert Peters has dared to update Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s brilliant re-creation of the 1925 Clarence Darrow/William Jennings Bryan “monkey trial,” apparently without permission. Altering the dialogue to include references to Tom Brokaw and the Web, this piece of dramatic vandalism assumes that, unless the characters resemble the audience, theatergoers won’t buy Darrow’s defense of freethinking against pulpit-pounding clock stoppers.

Though well-intentioned, their effort couldn’t be more wrongheaded. The genius of the play–which was hardly contemporary even in its 1955 debut–is its faithful depiction of human nature and of a seminal point in American history. Its Bible-thumping literalists, cynical journalists, and confused schoolteachers are timeless precisely because they’re rooted in their time. By pretending it could happen in any era, the Boxers deny the trial ever happened at all.

In this half-baked staging, the characters’ emotions blow hot and cold in spastic gusts. And though it might be right to make the Darrow and H.L. Mencken figures female, Jennifer Willison as Drummond is just Ally McBeal spouting big words, and Danielle Rhea as the hard-boiled cynic devolves into strident sarcasm. Though John Carter Brown is too young for Brady–his disintegration makes little sense–he does hint at the happy warrior’s unctuous zeal. Steve Cwik is sterling as the embattled teacher, and Melissa Young earns her tears as his much tested fiancee. –Lawrence Bommer