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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

To Kill A Mockingbird
Flies High at Intiman Theatre

Also see David's review of Twelfe Night

 

To Kill a Mockingbird
Nick Robinson, Keaton Whittaker,
Lino Marioni and William Hall Jr

Harper Lee's beloved novel and its perhaps more beloved film version starring an Academy Award winning Gregory Peck are a tough act to follow for a stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, but happily Christopher Sergel's text for the stage and Fracaswell Hyman's subtle and loving direction combine to make the Intiman Theatre production (virtually sold-out and twice extended before it opened) one to treasure.

The setting is 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, a decaying town where lawyer Atticus Finch, the fair, benevolent widowed father of little Scout Finch and her somewhat older brother Jem, takes on the unenviable task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white, low-class young woman, Mayella Ewell. There is also the well-remembered subplot regarding the Finch's rarely seen neighbor "Boo" Radley.  Though the stage play turns the narration of the story over to kindly neighbor Maudie Atkinson instead of Scout, the well-remembered particulars of the tale are the same. Director Hyman's pacing is languid but never lethargic, and he peoples his cast with a core group of seasoned pros, in addition to the three charming young actors who portray Scout, Jem and their pal Dill.

As Atticus, David Bishins is reminiscent of Peck in the role, but he never apes the characterization. His Atticus comes across a bit sterner than Peck's but no less loving, and in his courtroom scenes he is a commanding presence. In a rare non-musical role, Broadway and Seattle stalwart Patti Cohenour is a luminous presence as the watchful and caring neighbor Miss Maudie. Keaton Whittaker, who handily stole scenes as little Susan in the 5th Avenue's White Christmas  last year, is a picture perfect Scout: real, funny and never too broad or precious. Nick Robinson is equally disarming in the less showy role of Jem, and Lino Marioni, all blonde hair and bangs, is a perfect fit for Dill, the precocious, lonely oddball of a child drawn from Harper Lee's own friend from childhood, Truman Capote.  All three of these young actors had been perhaps a bit too attentive to the dialect coaching they received in their roles, making some of their lines hard to comprehend, though I suspect this has corrected itself as the run of the show progressed.

In key supporting roles, Russell Hodgkinson is disturbingly menacing as the vile Bob Ewell, father of the alleged rape victim Mayella, played effectively by Liz Morton. Josephine Howell as the Finch's black housekeeper Calpurnia gives a forceful, life-affirming performance that endears her to the audience; David Drummond scored some honest laughs as folksy Sheriff Heck Tate; and Lori Larson is a delight as gossipy neighbor lady Stephanie Crawford. Sean Phillips gives a subdued, dignified and sympathetic performance as Tom Robinson; Walayn Sharples captures the doughty, lonely Mrs. Dubose to perfection; and William Hall, Jr. as the Reverend Sykes, as well as Stephen Grenley in a pair of smaller roles are also richly characterful. Within just a few moments onstage, Peter Crook creates pathos and warmth in his performance as Boo Radley.

I couldn't grasp just what scenic designer Alec Hammond was trying to say by placing a huge red tree with chairs hanging like lynch mob victims from it stage center, but it did not add to my enjoyment of the show, though I very much liked the skewed, lopsided Radley house, as if from the children's perspective. Elizabeth Hope costumes (including the famous Ham outfit Scout wears to a school pageant) are perfectly in character with the story.

To Kill A Mockingbird is clearly a show Seattle's audiences were waiting to see onstage, and happily the Intiman production will not disappoint them.

To Kill A Mockingbird runs through November 10 at Intiman Theatre, 101 Mercer Street, in Seattle Center. For further information visit Intiman online at www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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