“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
All Rise! Set in 1930’s Maycomb, Alabama, the stage version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (based on the novel by Harper Lee) is told by the young Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed “Scout.” Assisting her in telling the tale are her older brother Jeremy, called Jem, and a visiting friend named Dill. Scout and Jem’s Father is Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer who is about to take up the defense in the David-and-Goliath case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape and murder in a town where the KKK still looms. Helping care for the Finch children is Calpurnia, their Black cook who’s been with the family (like a sister and friend) for three generations. They are a close-knit and thoughtful group who are about to find out just how close-minded humanity can be.
The touring cast features Richard Thomas in the role of Atticus Finch. Thomas is known best by many for his portrayal of John Boy Walton in the 1970s TV series, THE WALTONS. The veteran actor has graced film, TV, and the stage since 1958, and this national tour performance shows (once again) his power-house abilities as a tour de force actor. His charisma, depth, and commitment to the character comes through every moment of his performance, with an especially heart-pounding presentation of Finch’s closing arguments in the trial of Tom Robinson. “In the name of God, do your duty,” he challenges in his final, hard-hitting plea.
As if the aura of Richard Thomas isn’t enough, the entire company of the tour is right up there with him in excellence, making the meaty piece digestible, approachable, and accessible. The well-rounded company includes Melanie Moore as Scout Finch, Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson, Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Steven Lee Johnson as Dill Harris, and Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia. As a note of interest, Mary Badham (who plays the ill-tempered Mrs. Dubose on this national tour) appeared in the original 1962 film version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD alongside actor Gregory Peck. The ensemble work is fluid, and the performances individually and together are a master class in quality.
Other characters bringing life to the layers of drama include the terrifying shut-in Boo Radley (Travis Johns), rape accuser Mayella Ewell (Arianna Gayle Stucki) and her father Bob (Joey Collins), and the hateful Mrs. Dubose (Mary Badham). Each and every character forces one to look inward, wondering what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. And the next question that follows – does knowing what it’s like being in those shoes forgive that other person’s actions? Or does it further condemn them?
Directed by Bartlett Sher, the new play by Aaron Sorkin fully captures Harper Lee’s themes of childhood innocence, racial injustice, personal conviction, and what it means to see life from another person’s point of view – to get inside their skin. The ideas of heroes and villains, black and white, right and wrong are fully explored and questioned in the production.
Despite the serious subject matter, the story is presented dramatically through the whimsical view of a child. This gives the show a needed arc of levity and hope, despite the topics at hand. Scout, Jem, and Dill’s pure take on life around them not only helps the adults on stage understand their own beliefs, but gives the audience a feeling that all may not be lost in the world. The innocence and optimism expressed through the children’s questions and actions show both the brutality of the situation, and the desire for positive change.
All in all, this moving production is worth every emotion that it evokes. The superior acting, the appropriate setting, lights, sound, and costumes, the skillful directing, and the overall presentation of this superb theatrical endeavor do justice to Harper Lee’s first-class novel.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD plays at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square now through May 15, 2022. Tickets are $20.00-$139.00 and can be purchased at www.playhousesquare.org.