The n-word. A mysterious man who hasn’t left his house in a decade. The trial and conviction of an innocent black man.
All just a normal day for the play “To Kill A Mockingbird,” based on the classic book by Harper Lee.
The story is set in Maycomb, Alabama in 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. The loss of innocence and seeing racism through the eyes of a child are major themes.
Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout, is a kid growing up in Maycomb along with her brother Jem and friend Dill. For the first half of the play, they have various exploits such as trying to think up ways to get the local shut-in Boo Radley out of his house and complaining that their father, Atticus, isn’t as cool as the other kids’ fathers.
The play is clearly separated into two parts; the first dealing with the kids, and the second dealing with the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for the rape of a white woman. The first part is mostly fluff and sets up the real meat of the story: the trial and aftereffects. The first half drags but the second half picks up when plot actually happens. Even when the plot picks up, some may find the story a chore to get through as it’s not the most exciting thing to watch unfold.
Connecting each scene is an older version of Scout, played by Wendy Wiedmeier, looking back on her own past and trying to understand what happened. It’s a good framing device and without her guidance the play wouldn’t make a lot of sense, since the scenes are sometimes weeks apart.
Of special note are the actors who play Dill and Walter Ewell, Brett Young and Gordon Roadcap, respectively, who gave outstanding performances. The energy Young puts into Dill is contagious as he gestures and runs across the stage. Ewell is a real scumbag in Roadcap’s hands when he’s taunting Robinson or the Finch kids and he’s a character one can’t help but love to hate.
Atticus Finch, played by Brandon Lancaster, struggles to give the impression of worldly wisdom that Atticus is known for. More than anything, Lancaster’s age, at least half that of Atticus, is to blame for hampering his role.
The beginning and end of the play are bookended by a scene, more like a snapshot, with all the characters on the stage frozen in place doing what they’re noteworthy for. It gives a sense of timelessness to an already timeless classic, and it works wonderfully. In addition, the characters will go in slow motion as the older Scout narrates what she’s thinking about and what happens, and it’s a great effect that’s unusual to see in theatre.
The stage was also surprisingly diverse, morphing from a handful of houses to a courtroom on a whim. The stage itself must’ve cost a small fortune in materials alone to make.
All in all, “To Kill A Mockingbird” has amazing actors, stages, and design decisions. Just don’t expect too much excitement from the story.