Chicago “To Kill a Mockingbird” Tour

Early in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a young Scout Finch started introducing us to the courtroom. Of course, she sees the fictional judiciary in Maycomb, Alabama, through the eyes of a child. But she did it out of awe of a girl who would grow up to be a lawyer. Raised by her father, Atticus, she saw the court as a church or chapel, an institution fully capable of addressing the injustices that occurred outside its doors, a refuge, stability, hope, and a man before the law A place where people are equal.

Sitting there on a Wednesday night, the Supreme Court flashed through my mind, as elsewhere in the appropriately quiet Netherlander theatre. Regardless of one’s politics, there is no doubt that trust in the institution will diminish, both from the outside and from within (as Justice Clarence Thomas recently pointed out). As for the time frame, I don’t mean between now and 1960, when Lee’s famous work was published, but between now and 2018, when I was reviewing director Bartlett Schell’s work on Broadway, and the first national tour Arrival Wednesday in Chicago, starring Richard Thomas.

Things unravel much faster than they build.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a work that people tend to know and see. If you’ve seen a staged version in Chicago, you’ve almost certainly seen Christopher Selger’s adaptation, an ancient text true to Lee’s vision. Published in Woodstock, Illinois, Sergel’s adaptation has been the script for countless high school and community theater productions.

Sorkin’s version is something else entirely. He was hired by producer Scott Rudin to make a more current version of the iconic novel to reduce its connection to the so-called “white savior” narrative, an element of the novel , Maycomb’s black citizens stood on balconies as their heroes left the courtroom, but without success. Sorkin adds agency to the black characters in Lee’s story: specifically, he voices the character of Tom Robinson (the excellent Yeager T. Welch) and significantly changes Atticus (the character Gregory Peck made famous in the movie) and his relationship. Calpurnia, the domestic worker (played by awesome Chicago actress Jacqueline Williams on tour, showed the nation a talent we’ve known for a long time).

In Lee’s novel and Sergel’s adaptation, they are essentially a surrogate sibling. In Sorkin’s adaptation, Calpurnia vehemently opposes one of Atticus’ core beliefs: that everyone has a good side, and that a virtuous person is always trying to empathize with those who seem hostile, trying to understand why they feel the way they do . This even includes racism like Bob Ewell (Joey Collins) and his daughter Mayella (Arianna Gale Starkey, who dives into an extremely challenging role) By.

So on a broader level, Sorkin turns “The Robin” from a transcript of America’s slow but noticeable progress under the law to exploring a key rift between many progressives and what remains of the centrist left: opposition The faction must be summoned and destroyed, which is not the same as participation and understanding.

Of course, Lee is tied to her time and memory. Sorkin’s restless writing transformed her novel, no doubt, and indisputably undermined what was most important to Lee, Atticus’ brave heroism. But in doing so, he made the work vital in contemporary center-left debate. Racism isn’t the only thing tried in court. The same goes for old-fashioned liberalism, which often insists in a paternalistic manner to keep people moving together.

By the way, Thomas is great. He’s nothing like the original star Jeff Daniels, who completed a tired exit and whose man felt the blow from the failure of someone he so badly wanted to believe. Thomas is not that actor: his Atticus is still optimistic, idealistic and more naive. You can see his character being pulled between Lee and Sorkin’s different worldviews, which is fascinating.

I think you should know that Sher’s production feels like a grand event. You might be moved to tears in surprising places, and the entire cast really filled the night with a sense of grappling with America’s big problems. Another change to this adaptation is that Dill Harris, played by Steven Lee Johnson, is apparently a gay kid. In a world where Jem Finch (Justin Mark) would be fine, you would worry about him, but Tom was treated so unfairly.

Melanie Moore is very strong as a touring scout, although I wish she would find quieter moments, when her adult self, America’s adult self, emerges from this painful history, perhaps more so The pain of the country instead of progress.

But all kinds of people still come together to watch To Kill a Mockingbird, to feel, to think, to grapple with the past, to try and define goodness so they can pass something on to their children . Some want to deconstruct; others are looking for a new version of the American Center that Lee thinks she found in her Atticus. You have to find it yourself.

Chris Jones is the Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

Review: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

When: until May 29

Where: Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.

Run time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Tickets: $35-149, call 800-775-2000 and www.broadwayinchicago.com

While proof of vaccinations is no longer required for admission, masks are mandatory inside the theater.

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