In 1960, a young southern woman took a manuscript to a publisher who agreed to print it even though he doubted it would be well received.
To date “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, has been translated into at least 40 languages, has sold more than 30 million copies world wide and has never been out of print; it is surpassed in sales only by the Bible.
In 1962, this simple, complex book was turned into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus, for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award. In 2012, the American Film Industry (AFI) named Atticus Finch the greatest hero in the history of American Film.
The book was adapted into a play by Christopher Sergel, which debuted in 1990 and is the current production at Tacoma Little Theatre.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is the story, loosely based on the author’s coming of age, of a widower and his two young children. Atticus Finch is an attorney; his daughter Scout is 6 and his son Jem is four years older.
Atticus is a mild-mannered man who is unlike most of his contemporaries in the 1935, southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus believes in the equality of law for all people, regardless of color. So, when a black man, Tom Robinson, is accused of rape by a young white woman, Atticus accepts, though reluctantly, the judge’s request that he defend Robinson.
How this heroic deed affects the man, his family and his town is the story told in such beautiful language it is hard not to cry and laugh with the characters. The simplicity of Atticus’ admonitions to his children on the differences between right and wrong and his attempt to enlighten his town, likewise, is a great treat as it comes alive on the stage, no matter how well or little you know the story.
The TLT production has a duo of directors; Jennifer Niehaus-Rivers and Martin J. Mackenzie share the honors. The two have done well with the retelling of this amazing story. They have imparted their feelings to their cast and the cast has responded in kind, presenting their emotions on stage.
The action takes place on another excellent set by Blake R. York, which depicts the street where the Finches live and with a few changes, converts to a courtroom. York’s set is typical of his high standards, right down to the clap-board houses.
Michele Graves does the period costumes nicely and Pavlina Morris adds a good lighting design. Darren Hembd’s sound design is something of a mystery, he has included Appalachian tunes during the pre-show and intermission; the biggest problem is his music during the expository messages over-shadows the actor’s words.
The cast is comprised of 18 old and new comers to both TLT and to Theatre, itself.
Wanda Moats does a nice job as Mrs. Dubose, the Finch’s elderly neighbor; Travis Barnett makes a very brief stage debut appearance as both Nathan and Arthur (Boo) Bradley, father and son; Patrick Grills has a limited say as Link Dees; Everett McCracken is a respectful Walter Cunningham; James Brown is charming as Reverend Sykes; Michael Christopher is pompously confident as the prosecutor, Horace Gilmer; Noah Nieves Driver is quite believable as the gentle Tom Robinson; and Frank Thompson is justly judicial as Judge Taylor. All do their roles with feeling. However, Christopher does an extra good job of playing the shyster you love to hate.
Heidi Walworth-Horn is Miss Maudie Atkinson and Cara Hazzard is Miss Stephanie Crawford. These two make up the “Greek Chorus” of the play, giving antecedent events and revealing off-stage happenings to bring the audience into the plot. Each is good in their job. Hazzard is spooky when telling the children about Boo. Walworth-Horn has the majority of work explaining the rest of the story.
Austin Kuetgens Brooks is Charles “Dill” Baker Harris, the summer visitor to the neighborhood, who quickly ingratiates himself to the finch children and their father. This sixth-grader is quite good in his role of the “hale-fellow-well-met” out-spoken new playmate.
Kerry Bringman does some of his best work as Sheriff Heck Tate. Bringman gives the officer the authority he needs as the protector of the people of the small town, while he tempers his character with sage understanding of correctness.
Mitch Burrow is Bob Ewell, the father to the supposed victim. Burrow elicits such disgust from the audience that the sleaze is almost booed – the actor does such good job in bringing forth his character.
Gunnar Johnson plays Jeremy – better known as Jem – the older Finch child. Johnson, a comparative new-comer to the stage, does well with making his character believable.
Liberty Evans-Agnew is a charming Scout – Jean-Louise Finch. This is her story and the actor portrays her character quite nicely with good understanding. She could use some help in projecting her voice; she is so young, with a full house taking up so much sound, it could be difficult for those in the back of the theatre to hear all she says.
Jim Rogers is Atticus Finch, our hero. Rogers makes Atticus the quiet gentleman the character is. He presents him as an understanding and loving parent and a dedicated attorney with dignity of office. Rogers’ line delivery is good, as it the way he handles himself on stage. However, unfortunately, the actor does not bring forth the inner passion which should be apparent in this role.
One of the big surprises in the cast is Marion Read as Calpurnia, the housekeeper/maid for the Finch family. Read is wonderfully boisterous as the hymn-singing heart of the household; her voice proves amazing from only the brief tune the audience experiences. Read makes it evident that there is no doubt that this woman really runs the Finch household.
The second surprise if Zenaida Smith as the alleged victim Mayella Ewell. Smith plays the unhappy child/woman as a subservient daughter, dutifully frightened of her over-bearing father with no self-respect or self-worth. Yet, when doubt is cast on her tale of rape, Smith turns into a snake hissing vehemence at the world which has turned against her. Smith’s mixture of tears and venomous spittle almost make the audience feel sorry for her ignorance of mind in what she is willing to do to the innocence of Robinson.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through February 9 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. Attention Super Bowl Fans: Due to many request, the Sunday February 2 matinee will begin at 12 noon to allow the audiences to view the other drama playing that day!
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is touted to be one of America’s literary treasures. Surly it is one of the greatest novels written in the Twentieth Century. Bring the whole family to this brilliant tale of America’s past to enjoy and learn so that they will never let anything like this miscarriage of justice happen again.