To Kill a Mockingbird
By: Karen Isaacs - Jun 30, 2023
Is there anyone who hasn’t read or seen the film To Kill a Mockingbird?
No matter whether you read it in school or more recently or even never read the novel, you owe it to yourself to see the absolutely fabulous new stage adaptation now at the Bushnell through Sunday, July 2.
Aaron Sorkin received permission from author Harper Lee before she died in 2016 to write a new play adaptation of the novel. The result is terrific.
It is depressing how this story of injustice and racial prejudice is still so relevant. It seems like it could have been taken from the headlines. You may not know it, but the novel is one of the books that school boards are asked to remove from libraries and curricula.
If you have forgotten the story, it is told by Scout (Melanie Moore) and her brother Jim (Justin Mark), the children of the widowed lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas). Finch takes on the case of defending Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch), who has wrongly been accused of raping a young woman.
So what are the changes? First of all, the black residents of the town are given more prominence, particularly Calpurnia, who is the housekeeper for Atticus and the children. But other black residents sit listening to the trial. Of course, they are separated from the white residents. It is the 1930s, after all. It is also clear that the three children – Scout, Jem and Dill – are older than they are in the novel. Jem was just 12 during most of the novel, with Scout younger and Dill about Jem’s age. Here it is more likely that they are all between 13 and 16.
A second subtle change is that Atticus Finch is not the perfect man. Even if you have never questioned it before, you will question if his endless supply of empathy and willingness to assume the best in everyone really is such a virtue. This attitude, at times, prevents him from accepting and dealing with reality. He is less of a saint-like figure.
Director Bartlett Sher and his production team have created the reality of a small town and the various locales using more suggestive than fully realistic elements. We see Atticus’ front porch and the kitchen, the courtroom, and the street in front of the courthouse.
The set, costumes, lighting, and sound design are excellent adaptations of what was seen on Broadway both before and after Covid.
Richard Thomas is perfect as Atticus; he makes the man more than a saintly figure by letting us see moments of frustration and doubt. It is a bravura performance.
If there is one quibble with the production, it is Sher’s decision to use adult actors as the children. It is easy to understand his reasoning: these are major roles that require skill and range. After all, Julie Harris won acclaim for the role on Broadway though a child actor, Mary Badham played the role in the film. Here, it’s not that the three don’t do a fine job; they all do. The problem is that they look and sound way too mature for the ages they are playing.
Jacqueline Williams has the expanded role of Calpurnia, the housekeeper for the family. She brings both dignity and sternness to the role. Joey Collins makes Bob Ewell truly evil as the man who has accused Tom Robinson of raping his daughter Mayella. Arianna Gayle Stucki, who plays Mayella, lets us know with her body language and her face precisely what has been going on in that household. It is a performance that makes you want to reach out and comfort her.
Welch, as Tom Robinson, has quiet dignity; his testimony on the stand is chilling in its quiet dignity.
At times Calpurnia appears to want to shake Atticus out of his belief that his neighbors will do the “right thing” and see that Robinson could NOT have done it. She (and Robinson) know better.
This is a play that not only should you see for its point of view or message, but you must see it for the superb acting and production. Even if you know the story, you will be moved at the final curtain.
For tickets, visit Bushnell.org.