Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird
The Saenger Theater
Aaron Sorkin (best known for writing The West Wing) adapted of Harper Lee's classic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, opening on Broadway in 2018. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the play is set in Alabama in 1934, focusing on steely-but-fair lawyer Atticus Finch, representing a young Black man who has been falsely accused of sexual assault.
The story is told from the perspective of its young protagonists, Scout, Jem, and Dill. Melanie Moore and Justin Mark are suitably youthful and exuberant as the Finch siblings, with Steven Lee Johnson's Dill bringing some balancing comedic moments.
Sorkin takes a few risks with the adaptation, choosing to focus on Atticus (the excellent Richard Thomas) and playing up his dignity and morality as a small town lawyer under pressure from his largely racist community. Thomas plays especially well against Jacqueline Williams, the housekeeper Calpurnia, who has a notable depth and stands up to Atticus when necessary. She has a memorable line when told about the stuff that doesn't kill us making us stronger: "But what about the stuff that kills us?"
The play addresses dark subject matter, including the machinations of the KKK and the implied sexual abuse in a local family, something that the film version shied away from. Period-appropriate slurs are difficult to hear in the modern day, but certainly conjure up the viciousness of the situation. Arianna Gayle Stucki plays the difficult part of Mayella Ewell, the teenager who accuses Tom Robinson. Robinson is expertly portrayed by Glenn Fleary, and contributes memorably to the incredibly evocative courtroom scene.
It’s a large and adept cast, including Mary Badham, who appeared in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird as Scout (earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress). She effectively retired from acting shortly after the release and has done very few roles, making her theater debut here as the bigoted Mrs. Henry Dubose. A piece of Hollywood history live on stage, then, and a sometimes chilling but hopefully optimistic story ensues, to which Sorkin has brought his customary rigor.
It's received wisdom that to understand folk, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. One of the themes revealed in To Kill A Mockingbird is that good people like Robinson already do this, so to create a just world, the trick is to make bad folk do this as well.
To Kill A Mockingbird runs at The Saenger Theater through June 4th. Tickets and show info here.
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