Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
It’s hard to imagine a story more beautiful, more touching, or more human than Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. And, yet, Aaron Sorkin’s revamping, directed by Bartlett Sher, starring the legendary Richard Thomas, and onstage now at DPAC, somehow manages to make the tale more poignant than it’s ever been.
As longtime fans of the novel and past productions know, the story centers around young Scout Finch (Melanie Moore) and her altruistic lawyer father, Atticus (Richard Thomas). It’s the 1930s, and Atticus chooses to defend a Black man, Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch), accused of raping a white woman. While his choice brings havoc to their own lives, he stands up staunchly in defense of what he believes is right. And, ultimately, this is a decision that leads to much drama, upheaval, and growth in the lives of not just Scout and Atticus, but everyone adjacent to them.
In this unique production, Scout, along with her brother Jem (Justin Mark) and pal Dill (Steven Lee Johnson), are not played by children. Rather, they are adults posed as children, a nice touch considering the novel and the script’s coming-of-age theme. In fact, this choice oddly adds a new sense of believability to the treasured tale and symbolizes the resonance this brief period of time will forever have in these characters’ lives.
Fortunately, that’s not the only wise choice made here. Smooth set transitions, lilting use of color, and a self-referential, breaking-the-fourth-wall tone all serve to make this story come alive in new ways. Add in the fact that we’re living in a transitory world, one rife with racial tension and tumult, and the familiar story takes on a whole new meaning, one that is more prescient than ever before.
As the Finch family takes on Robinson’s evil accuser, Bob Ewell (Joey Collins), viewers will be reminded of all-too-present views that all-too-many people of today currently hold. The script does not shy away from the language of the time. This bold and jarring choice forces audiences to confront the harsh reality of the Finches’ world as well as our own.
And, despite the difficult theme, the script still manages to infuse humor and love. Thomas does not disappoint as the steadfast, lovable, but ultimately imperfect Atticus, while Moore, Mark, and Johnson make for believably innocent and often precocious children. However, to only acknowledge the leads would be a disservice to the great work done here. Everyone, from the bitter Mrs. Henry Dubose (Mary Badham) to the no-nonsense Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) is on-point with delivering rich, thorough, and multi-layered characterizations. Welch and Travis Johns (Boo Radley) both know how to draw sympathy with only a few words. The same can even be said, shockingly, for Arianna Gayle Stucki’s Mayella Ewell, Tom’s accuser who is, as Atticus so eloquently points out, a victim in her own right, but also still a villain.
The production never feels rushed, and yet it’s not overly drawn out. It’s tender but so honest as to never be saccharine. It’s also filled with truly touching moments, such as when Atticus draws Dill to his chest and a thousand others. Above all, though, despite its subject matter, it still manages, against all odds, to inspire hope. It showcases both the ugliest and most beautiful parts of humanity and charges its viewers to “stand up” and embrace the latter while never ignoring the former. A lesson in life, love, and darn good writing, this production of To Kill a Mockingbird is unforgettable on all levels.
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