CLC theater director tackles legal drama in final performance

Central Lakes College Theatre Director Patrick Spradlin retires May 17. He will perform in the one-man show "Clarence Darrow" at the college's Brainerd campus starting Thursday, April 21.

Patrick Spradlin as "Clarence Darrow" in a one-man show at Central Lakes College
Central Lakes College Theatre Director Patrick Spradlin rehearses in character in the one-man legal drama "Clarence Darrow," the last theater production of the academic year of the CLC Performing Arts Center.
Contributed / Central Lakes College

BRAINERD — Central Lakes College Theatre Director Patrick Spradlin will perform the one-man show “Clarence Darrow” as a farewell benefit for the theater program.

The show will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, through Saturday and on April 28 and 29 in the Bob Dryden Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.

“This project is my way of bidding farewell to the audiences I’ve welcomed to our theatres, to the actors and designers and crew members of the innumerable shows I’ve directed, to former students, current coworkers and anyone else who has an interest,” he stated in a news release.

The CLC Performing Arts Center will present the play for its last theater production of the academic year. The college is in the early stages of hiring a new director to replace Spradlin, who recently announced he would retire in May after a 30-year career at the college.

Patrick Spradlin mugshot
Patrick Spradlin is the theater director at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and producer of its Cultural Arts Series.
Contributed / Central Lakes College

“I performed this play in 2016 and thought of reviving it when the COVID pandemic was at its worst,” Spradlin stated.


Spradlin said he was a few short weeks away from opening a Brainerd Community Theatre production of the dramatic masterpiece “Amadeus” when the show was closed down.

“Because of the surge in the COVID variant in late December or early January, it was the position of the state college system and our local administration to cancel all public gatherings on campus. That, unfortunately, meant that “Amadeus” was a casualty,” Spradlin stated.

The cast of 26 actors, the designers and technicians associated with “Amadeus” were all given the bad news in mid-January, and the production was unable to be rescheduled due to cast members’ scheduling conflicts.

Darrow stands out among all lawyers in the history of the American legal system.
— Patrick Spradlin

“So, a one-man show, where the only person who could potentially be disappointed by another cancellation was me, seemed appropriate,” Spradlin said of “Clarence Darrow.”

Darrow is considered to be one of the greatest trial lawyers in the history of American jurisprudence, according to Spradlin, and is known for defending poor and minority clients and for his record of success in preventing clients facing the death penalty from being executed.

“Darrow stands out among all lawyers in the history of the American legal system,” Spradlin stated.

Darrow’s signature cases include the defense of labor leader Eugene V. Debs, the Chicago trial of thrill killers Leopold and Loeb and the head-to-head battle with famed orator/statesman William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial about the teaching of evolution in public schools.

“You’d be hard-pressed to name a lawyer working today with the kind of national reputation and admiration that Darrow had in his time. And that was prior to radio, television, and social media,” Spradlin stated.


A courtroom gavel

Spradlin notes the play has been performed by two great American actors — Henry Fonda, who originated the role in this play by David Rintels, and Kevin Spacey, who has not only performed this particular play but also embodied Darrow in a biographic film about him.

“I certainly don’t place myself in the same league with these two terrific actors. … But regardless of the actor in the role, the character of Darrow and his life story is so compelling, so moving, and has such current resonance with contemporaneous events,” Spradlin stated.

Darrow was fictionalized as the character Henry Drummond in the play and film “Inherit the Wind,” played on screen by Spencer Tracy. The Scopes Trial is the focus of this particular play or screenplay.

“In the Scopes case, the state of Tennessee had passed legislation barring the teaching of a subject matter deemed too controversial for the ears of their students,” Spradlin stated. “I think most people will see a modern-day parallel with legislation that’s now been passed in several states attempting to achieve the same result as it regards other subject matter.”

“Clarence Darrow” is a self-directed project, although Spradlin noted he is receiving a “good deal of input and guidance” from others.

Director Erik Steen (left) and actor Patrick Spradlin confer over a moment in a play "Clarence Darrow," presented by Brainerd Community Theatre. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls)
Erik Steen (left) and Patrick Spradlin confer over a moment in a play "Clarence Darrow," presented by Brainerd Community Theatre, in a 2016 production of the legal drama about the notable attorney.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“The 2016 production was directed by Erik Steen, who has since moved away. I have local director and good friend Beth Selinger sitting in on some of the rehearsals to give me an objective opinion of how things are playing,” Spradlin stated.

The set for the play is designed by Tim Leagjeld. Heidi Eckwall is the lighting designer. The production stage manager is Lorri Jager. Curtis Jendro is the technical director and advisor on projections and sound.

Tickets for “Clarence Darrow” are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at .


“Tickets for the play are free, but we are asking for a free-will donation at a suggested low amount,” Spradlin stated. “All proceeds will go toward the theater program, in support of whatever the future holds for the program following my retirement.”

This production is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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