Posts Tagged ‘to kill a mockingbird’

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Bartlett Sher
The Fox Theatre
February 28, 2023

Justin Mark, Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore, Steven Lee Johnson
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
To Kill a Mockingbird National Tour

The latest adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird highlights the works of two celebrated writers–Haper Lee, who wrote the classic novel, and playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who created the script for this new stage version. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this production shifts the focus slightly while still emphasizing the timeless themes of the novel. The touring production, currently on stage at the Fox, also boasts a strong, memorable cast and a remarkable technical presentation, along with fast-paced, dynamic staging to tell this classic story in a truly memorable way.

The novel is such a classic that it’s been assigned in school for generations, and many Americans have read it or at least seen the celebrated 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck, or one of the many productions of the previous stage version by Christopher Sergel. It’s a story many are familiar with, so a new adaptation was always going to be a challenge, even for the award-winning Sorkin. The resulting script is fast-moving and dynamic, changing the focus slightly to center in more on lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas) than his daughter, Scout (Melanie Moore), who is the protagonist of the novel, although Scout still has a prominent role here, narrating the show along with her brother, Jem (Justin Mark), and new friend, Dill (Steven Lee Johnson). The story is told in semi-linear fashion, alternating between the trial of Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch)–a Black man who Atticus defends against a false rape charge–and events in the lives of the Finch family and the townspeople as the trial further exposes the ingrained racist system and culture of the old South, and Atticus himself is challenged by the family’s housekeeper Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams). 

Calpurnia and Robinson are given a bit more focus here, as well, with Welch getting some compelling moments in the trial, and Williams making a strong impression in scenes with Atticus and the children. The children are played by adults here, which may seem like a strange choice, but it works, and all three performers are convincing, from the gutsy Moore as Scout; to the confrontational Mark as Jem; to the impulsive and verbose Johnson as Dill. There’s also strong support from David Manns as the sympathetic Judge Taylor, and a chilling turn from Joey Collins as the threatening, racist Bob Ewell, father of Robinson’s accuser, Mayella, who is played with a credible blend of fear, evasiveness, and anger by Arianna Gayle Stucki. Also notable are Jeff Still as the “town drunk”, and Robinson’s employer, Link Deas, and Mary Badham, who so memorably played Scout as a child in the film, who now has a brief but memorable role as Mrs. Henry Dubose, who is essentially the opposite of Scout–a cranky, critical, racist old woman who has a few confrontational run-ins with Scout and Jem. Thomas, as Atticus, is excellent, and believable as the noble lawyer as well as a man who is forced to confront his own flaws. It’s a very human portrayal, and his scenes with Moore, Mark, Johnson, and Williams are especially effective. There’s a fairly large ensemble here for a touring play, and everyone is strong, adding a cohesive energy to the production and its evocation of a specific place and historical era.

Technically, the show also impresses, with Miriam Buether’s versatile set moving smoothly between the Finch’s house and the courtroom, among other areas as needed. Ann Roth’s costumes are equally impressive, meticulously crafted with period detail and suiting the characters well and in keeping with the era, as is the hair and wig design by Campbell Young Associates. There’s also memorable, atmospheric lighting by Jennifer Tipton and proficient sound by Scott Lehrer.

Although there are needed moments of humor that are well-placed, To Kill a Mockingbird is an intense play, with important, serious subject matter dealing with issues of racism, along with abuse, bullying, and parental neglect. It also features some strong language, including frequent use of racial slurs, and suggestions and descriptions of abuse and assault. It’s a well-crafted drama featuring some truly remarkable performances, and to my mind, much more effective than the previous adaptation I have seen. Its a very human drama, speaking as much to today as it does to the time in which it is set. Like every adaptation of this book I’ve seen, it does streamline the story and leave some things out, but it does so with precision and insight. It makes me want to read the book again. It’s a remarkable adaptation, and a production that needs to be seen. 

Yaegel T. Welch, Stephen Elrod, Jacqueline Williams, Richard Thomas
Photo Julieta Cervantes
To Kill a Mockingbird National Tour

The national tour of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is running at the Fox Theatre until March 12. 2023

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To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee, Adapted by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Risa Brainin
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
February 10, 2017

Cast of To Kill a Mockingbird Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Cast of To Kill a Mockingbird
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic work of American literature, to the point of becoming iconic. So many people have read the book in school or elsewhere, and the movie starring Gregory Peck is highly celebrated. There have also been several stage adaptations of this story, including the one currently on stage at the Rep. It’s a somewhat condensed, stylized representation of the story, augmented by some truly memorable music, and featuring some strong performances, capturing the spirit of this important and still timely story.

Like most adaptations of this story and true to the book, the story is narrated by Jean Louise Finch (Lenne Klingaman), who is on stage for the vast majority of the play.  She’s the older version of the play’s young protagonist, Scout (Kaylee Ryan), who lives with her brother Jem (Ronan Ryan) and their lawyer father, Atticus (Jonathan Gillard Daly) in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama in 1935.  It’s a strictly segregated society, with the white and black citizens of the town living in different areas and not expected to socialize.  When Atticus is called upon to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson (Terell Donnell Sledge), who has been falsely accused of raping Mayella Ewell (Rachel Fenton), the daughter of local troublemaker Bob Ewell (Alan Knoll)–who is white–the whole town is put on edge as Atticus and his family are subjected to pressure and the threat of violence themselves. The focus, as is in the book, is on the kids, with Scout, Jem, and their new friend Dill (Charlie Mathis) at the center of the story from the beginning, while the trial becomes the centerpiece of the second act. The show is also notable for its stirring, emotional score composed by Michael Keck, and the singing by the members of the local black church, of which Tom Robinson, his wife Helen (Kimmie Kidd), and the Finches’ housekeeper Calpurnia (Tanesha Gary) are members. Their plaintive, poignant singing provides much of emotional weight of the play as the story plays out.

This is something of a streamlined adaptation of the play, with several of the book’s characters and situations left out in favor of focusing on the story of the trial and the view of life in Maycomb through the eyes of the main child characters. Even Atticus, as in the book, is seen primarily through Scout’s perspective. There are also local neighbors like the friendly Miss Maudie Atkinson (Amy Loui), the bitter and ailing Mrs. Dubose (Cynthia Darlow), and the mysterious Arthur “Boo” Radley (Christopher Harris), who plays a key role in the story. The dramatic high points are the trial and its aftermath, with strong performances from Knoll, who is practically unrecognizable as the malicious Bob Ewell, Fenton as the damaged and terrified Mayella, and Sledge as the embattled Robinson. There’s also good work from Whit Reichart as the fair-minded judge, Michael Keck as Robinson’s pastor Reverend Sykes, and Gary as Calpurnia.  Daly is a strong presence as Atticus, and his rapport with the three children, and especially Scout, is excellent. Klingaman is a good anchor to the production as the ever-present older Scout, although I don’t quite understand the directorial or design decision to outfit her in modern clothes rather than the period attire she would accurately be wearing. Perhaps it’s a way to detach her somewhat from the story, or to make it more timeless in a way, showing her as somewhat “out of time” as opposed to only two or three decades removed from the story as would be more realistic. The children are especially strong in this production as well, especially Kaylee Ryan as the bold young Scout and Mathis as the determined Dill. The real-life sibling relationship of the Ryans, twins in real life, lends a lot of credibility to their scenes here as well. This is a story where the children’s perspective is vital, and that focus is achieved well here with some excellent performances.

Technically, the show is impressive as is usual for the Rep. Narelle Sissons’s set is versatile and evocative, with “grass” that seems to grow out of the stage and a large tree that serves as a prominent centerpiece, and moving set pieces that roll on and off stage as needed. The costumes by Devon Painter are also excellent, detailed and period appropriate, with the already mentioned exception of Klingaman’s more present-day ensemble. There’s also strong atmospheric lighting by Michael Klaers that helps to set the mood, especially toward the end of Act 2.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a familiar story to many people. It’s at once a document of a particular time in American history and a reminder that things aren’t quite as improved nowadays as some might think. It’s a timely and timeless story at once, as well as a rich portrayal of the what the world looks like through the eyes of children. This adaptation is a strong, emotionally charged theatrical work, with some particularly strong performances to help carry its weight, and and especially strong and memorable musical underscoring. It’s another excellent production from the Rep, and faithful to the spirit of a classic and important work of American literature.

Kaylee Ryan, Tanesha Gary, Ronan Ryan Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Kaylee Ryan, Tanesha Gary, Ronan Ryan
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting To Kill a Mockingbird until March 5, 2017.

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