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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

To Kill a Mockingbird
Hartford Stage

To Kill a Mockingbird
Olivia Scott and Matthew Modine
The production of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, continuing at Hartford Stage through April 4th, is solid and commendable. Christopher Sergel provides the adaptation of the book and Michael Wilson, as ever, directs with a fine touch. He utilizes the entire, deep stage as well as entrances and exits within the entire theater—all to great advantage. Moreover, Hartford Stage hosts five thousand students from area schools who will see and appreciate the show during its run.

The skillful Matthew Modine, known to many through films such as Birdy and Full Metal Jacket, headlines a quality cast as Atticus Finch, a lawyer with moral vision and fortitude. Widowed, Atticus shows great warmth to his young daughter Scout (Olivia Scott) and her slightly older brother Jem (Henry Hodges). One of their friends, Dill (Andrew Shipman), is comic, insightful and charming. The year is 1935 and, with appropriately painted backdrops and panels which slide (furnished by designer Jeff Cowie, we are in Maycomb, Alabama. The distinctive actress Hallie Foote, playing Jean Louise Finch, adds connective narrative every so often; she speaks in a ringing Southern accent which permeates the house.

The kids are terrified of a neighbor they never quite see: Arthur "Boo" Radley (Devon Abner). Somehow, a mysterious individual leaves them presents in a large tree positioned prominently on the stage. Much of the first act is expository and Wilson, through his actors, conveys warmth and feeling for the Finch family.

The second hour of the play is comprised of a significant trial and its ramifications. Tom Robinson (Douglas Lyons) is a black man whose left hand is impaired. Mayella Ewell (Virginia Kull), a white woman not yet twenty, has accused him of attacking and raping her. Atticus Finch is both staunch and smart as he defends Tom. The attorney has attempted to keep his son and daughter out of the courtroom, but they manage to sneak in and sit in a section typically reserved for people of color.

Atticus demonstrates that both Mayella and her boorish, raging, drunken father Bob Ewell (Mike Boland) are liars. Nevertheless, the jury returns a verdict which declares Tom Robinson guilty and he is jailed. When Robinson attempts to flee, he is shot and killed. Bob Ewell is driven to spit in Atticus' face. Boo Radley, as the story develops, is proven to be quite a benevolent soul.

To Kill a Mockingbird retains its value for its thematic commentary upon race, gender, importance of family, and reaffirmation of fair justice. The Hartford Stage production honors the novel through Sergel's dramatization and the cast's excellent portrayals. Modine presents a sympathetic figure: one who understands that his priorities, in life, include his children, personally, and defense of moral truth, professionally. Modine is poised and relaxed within the context of the role. His relationship with Scout and Jem is natural, as if they might actually be his children.

In fact, the impressive youthful actors Olivia Scott, Henry Hodges and Andrew Shipman all seem quite at home on stage and it's a delight to watch them perform. Their talents mesh well with those of the adult cast members.

This rendering of To Kill a Mockingbird is a rich one, thanks in part to efforts of the design team which includes Cowie (sets), David C. Woolard (costumes) and Rui Rita (lighting). John Gromada's music, too, is a plus. It is my feeling that the production will work especially well for those who are not already familiar with either the novel or feature film.

To Kill a Mockingbird continues at Hartford Stage through April 4th. For tickets, call the box office at (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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