To Kill a Mockingbird, written by the enigmatic Harper Lee and dramatized by Christopher Sergel, opened at the Laurel Mill Playhouse, directed by Jen Sizer and produced by Maureen Rogers. A great dramatic story like this can still hold our attention and stir our emotions no matter how familiar you are with the tale. Many have read the book and even more have seen the fabulous movie with Gregory Peck as the epitome of a lawyer with scruples, Atticus Finch (played in this production by Joe Mariano).
If you have somehow never read the story, seen the movie or viewed another theatrical production of To Kill a Mockingbird, it follows the lives of the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama, through the eyes of the young daughter of Atticus, Scout (Molly Ross). It is narrated in this drama by an older Scout, Jean Louise (Maureen Rogers).
There is a trial going on of a black man, Tom Robinson (Sebastian Leighton), accused of beating and raping a young white woman. This is 1935 and the deep south. The only man who will defend him is Atticus. The story follows Scout, her brother, Jem (Zach Polignone), and their friend, Dill (Gareth Swing) as they watch their father stand up to bigotry with truth.
The interesting feature to this staging is the audience becomes the jury in Act II, although the verdict remains constant to the original story. The fourth wall is live scenery. It helps keep you absorbed in the drama. Act I takes place outside the Finch house where we meet their neighbors and the infamous Boo Radley (Nick Russo). We go back to that locale in Act III.
This is a play of characters. Mariano is a wonderful Atticus, beautifully understated, with emotions always in check. Yet, we still can see the warmth of this man in his love for his children and his respect for Robinson and his family.
The three children are the scene stealers. Ross captures the intensity and curiosity of Scout, Polignone is quite believable as the strong older brother, and Swing has just the right cuteness to be make Dill touch our hearts.
Rogers is poignant as she looks back at Scout’s childhood as Jean Louise. She unobtrusively sits in the first row of the audience, rising only to narrate.
Stand-outs in the supporting cast are Kevin Kelehan who is convincing as the evil Bob Ewell and Dana Fleischer as his daughter, Mayella Ewell, whom we pity and hate simultaneously. Leighton opens us to the fear and confusion of Robinson being tried for something he did not do just because he is a black man in the wrong place. Fine performances also are provided by John D’Amato as the District Attorney, Mr. Gilmer; Richard S. Huffman as Walter Cunningham, a neighbor and former client of Atticus; and Donise Stevens as Calpurnia, the loyal maid and surrogate mother to the Finch family. The rest of the cast, which includes Shawn Fournier as Thug, Dr. Reginald Garcon as Reverend Sikes, Barbara Gasper as Stephanie Crawford, Shenochia Jordan as Helen Robinson, Terri Laurino as Maudie Atkinson, Marge McGugan as Mrs. Dubose, Marvin Rogers a Judge Taylor, and Larry Simmons as Heck Tate, all give first rate performances.
Sizer handles this large cast well and helps create vivid images of rural Alabama. Her direction of the children keeps them genuine and real. The set is designed by Rogers and Sizer. It has many interesting levels and transforms almost flawlessly from the back porch of the Finch house to the Courthouse and back again. Michael Hartsfield and Sizer’s lighting design are a nice complement to the set. The costumes by Marge McGugan are authentic to the period and the characters’ personality and economic stature.
To Kill a Mockingbird still is a provocative story and still relevant. Some things have changed in America but the small step made by Atticus Finch makes us aware how important it is to keep making progress to cross the racial divide that has been a storm cloud over this country for far too long. Make sure you catch this wonderful presentation of this American classic.
Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with Two 10-minute Intermissions.