Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
To Kill a Mockingbird
The story, which tackles heavy subjects such as rape and racial injustice, is loosely based on Harper Lee's own childhood growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s. This adaptation strays from others as it begins early on with the trial–that of Tom Robinson (performed heartbreakingly by Glenn Fleary on the night of attendance), an African American man who has been accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell (an equally effective Arianna Gayle Stucki). Tom's case has been appointed to the council of Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" fame). And, though the town's white citizens strongly disapprove, he agrees to take on the case. A widower, Atticus lives with his two children, Jean Louise Finch (who goes by the nickname "Scout") portrayed by Melanie Moore, and Jeremy "Jem" (Justin Mark). The family also has an African American cook by the name of Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) who is as much a part of the family as the others. The story unfolds through the eyes of the two children along with their friend Dill Harris (a very funny Steven Lee Johnson) as they tell of the trial and the events that followed. What unfolds is an unfortunate truth that has plagued our justice system for centuries.
Aaron Sorkin has done a splendid job in adapting the book to the stage. He has taken the novel, which is primarily dominated by the perspective of Scout, and added Jem and Dill who share equal narration throughout. Sorkin has also considered how beloved both the book and its film adaptation are, while at the same time making it something new that speaks to the present. There are many moments of dialogue that may eerily remind viewers of our current racial and political climate. Having the play introduce the trial at the very beginning brings a dramatic tension that takes longer to unfold in previous iterations. Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher continues his career of beautiful and heart-felt storytelling, taking a well-known work and giving it a fresh perspective. Of the creative aspects, special mention must be given to Miriam Buether's scenic design which, is simplistic yet effective, and Ann Roth's costumes which lovingly harken back to the 1962 film.
Richard Thomas delivers a brilliant portrayal of a man who has a strong moral compass and whose flawed humanity is made more keenly evident by Sorkin's writing. At one point, Atticus turns away from the jury and to us, the audience, pleading us to seek justice and peace. Though the characters of Dill, Jem and Scout share equal stage time as narrators, it is Melanie Moore's characterization of Scout that steals the show. Moore embraces her character's innocence and energy, capturing the hearts of her audience. One of Sorkin's greatest achievements in his adaptation is enhancing the role of Calpurnia. Jacqueline William's sincere portrayal brings both laughter and tears as she speaks the truth that many know but are afraid to say aloud. As a bonus, the role of Mrs. Dubose is performed superbly by the original Scout from the 1962 film, Mary Badham. She has one small scene, but she delivers not only some of the best humor in the show but also stinging commentary from the viewpoint of the people of the town.
Since its introduction in 1960, Harper Lee's novel continues to be a staple in school reading curriculum. I can only imagine that this stage adaptation will become as beloved in regional theatres for years to come. Its story is timeless and its message clear. The problems ingrained in our justice system will never be solved by mob rule. As Ms. Lee wrote more 60 years ago, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." May we all step back from the mob mentality and listen to the conscience within ourselves and recognize the humanity in us all.
To Kill a Mockingbird, presented by Truist Broadway, through August 7, 2022, at DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.dpacnc.com, call 919-680-2787, or visit the Ticket Center at DPAC in person. For more information on the tour, visit tokillamockingbirdbroadway.com/tour/.
Book: Aaron Sorkin