Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

To Kill a Mockingbird
Downtown Cabaret Theatre

Also see Fred's review of These Paper Bullets!

John Atkin, Will Jeffries
and Everton Ricketts

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's beautiful story of childhood innocence and racial tensions in the South that inspired a classic 1962 film version, is currently being given a knockout stage production by the Bridgeport Theatre Company at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre. As dramatized by Christopher Segel and superbly directed by Eli Newsom, this stage adaptation comes as something of a revelation even for those who are familiar with either the Harper Lee novel or the film version of this work. In preparation for seeing the show, I recently screened that definitive film version of To Kill a Mockingbird and I severely doubted how any new production could possibly equal or add anything significant to this story. I was wrong. With an amazing cast led by the estimable Will Jeffries, this show starts out slowly, but gains momentum as it goes along, eventually culminating in a riveting courtroom sequence and a finale that truly packs a wallop. So, for all of you out there who thought that you had seen the last word of To Kill a Mockingbird, based on either the novel or the movie, this powerful new stage production, presented by the Bridgeport Theatre Company, is bound to surprise you and, therefore, ranks as a must-see.

Perhaps this production's greatest accomplishment is finding an actor who could possibly stand up to the memory of Gregory Peck's Oscar-winning performance in the film version. But, from the moment Will Jeffries takes the stage as Atticus Finch, it is obvious that all is well and, if he doesn't completely erase Peck's indelible portrayal from the audience's mind, he comes pretty close. Will Jeffries' Atticus is admirably commanding and authoritative, but one can also see the vulnerable humanity of the character under the surface, especially when it comes to his children. And while this actor is positively spellbinding in the lengthy courtroom sequence that is at the center of this play, a sense of despair, even fear, peeks through.

Atticus' children, Scout and Jem, are played, respectively, by the wonderful Claire Regan and Tyler Felson, and they are as important to To Kill a Mockingbird as the character of Atticus. As in the film, the story is seen primarily from their perspective, but the stage adaptation adds an important addition: the grown-up Scout (the fine Kitty Robertson) appears as the narrator, weaving in and out of the action as she reflects back on what happened to her as a child. Even more so than in the movie version, there is a palpable sense of danger in the children, as their father defends a black man who is accused of raping a white girl in the racially charged Alabama of 1935. Without revealing too much, the consequences of Atticus taking this case trickle down to the crazed character of Bob Ewell (the truly scary Roger Dykeman), father of the white girl accusing the black man of rape, and it is the actions of Bob Ewell that lead to the emotional and terrifying conclusion of the play.

Of course, without a good director at the helm, this To Kill a Mockingbird would never work as powerfully as it does. Director Eli Newsom, with the help of his superb scenic designer Kevin Pelkey and costume designer Christy McIntosh-Newsom, manages to precisely capture the look and feel of the story's time and place, as well as the tensions brewing just under the surface. What's more, this director presents one of the most heart-stopping courtroom scenes that I've ever seen, where one hangs on every word, even knowing how the story will turn out. And the finale packs such a punch that it could take one's breath away.

The cast is uniformly fine right down to the smallest of roles, with especially notable work by Kevin Pelkey as the town sheriff, John Atkin as Judge Taylor, and Everton Ricketts as the accused black man. Justice would not be served, however, if I didn't also mention the third child actor in the show, the adorable Mia Cenholt-Haulund who plays Dill. As noted, To Kill a Mockingbird is truly viewed through a child's perspective and it is one of this production's greatest accomplishments that it captures that innocence, even amongst the harshest of adult realities.

By all means, try to catch this revelatory production of To Kill a Mockingbird, as presented by the Bridgeport Theatre Company. It is most highly recommended.

To Kill a Mockingbird continues at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut through March 30, 2014. For tickets, please visit or call the box office at 203-576-1636.

Photo: Kevin McNair

Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Zander Opper