In a Small Town, Not Too Long Ago
The stage directions lay it out for us in Inherit the Wind: "Time: Summer. Not too long ago. Place: A small town." We soon find out that the town we're dealing with is Hillsboro, "Heavenly Hillsboro. The buckle on the Bible belt" (I, I, 277-78), as Hornbeck calls it.
Even though the town is specifically named "Hillsboro," and it is characterized as a small town in the South, the stage directions seem to point to a more universal setting. That's the idea, right? That this town is both specific and generalizable?
The funny thing about trying to understand the happenings of the play as universal is that Inherit the Wind is actually based on a real, live trial that happened in Dayton, Tennessee, back in 1925. So there is a very specific referent. But the playwrights are trying to show that this kind of thing can happen anytime, and anywhere new ideas are being born.
The notion the playwrights are trying to put forth is that even though the trial happened in Hillsboro, it wasn't too long ago. And really, it could happen anywhere. So, the play is supposed to work as a warning, or a lesson, against ignorance—and ignorance is a plague that isn't choosy about its victims.
The fact that it's summertime when the play begins only adds to the hellfire and brimstone imagery that a lot of the religious characters like to use. The heat also probably contributes to Brady's death. When he gets into town he jokes that he "could only wish one thing: that you had not given us quite so warm a welcome!" (I, I, 416-17)
The oppressive heat is kind of representative of the oppressive religious culture in the play, which won't let people think for themselves. Too bad there's no water park in Hillsboro…