Expanding ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at the Venice Theatre

Susan Leif

Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird consistently ranks at the top of America’s favorite books. The 1962 film adaptation won an Academy Award for Best Actor for Gregory Peck. Aaron Sorkin’s 2018 Broadway box office hit.

Lesser known is Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation from the late 1960s, which Lee approved for school and community theater productions.

“It’s been loved and celebrated since it was published,” said Benny Sato Ambush, who is directing Sergel’s stage production for the Venice Theatre adaptation. “I admire what Harper Lee did and how risky it was for her, as a white Southern woman, she told a story she knew. But she knew the story through her eyes .”

more:Venice Theatre announces its 16 performances for the 2022-2023 season

Venice Theater’s new artistic director Ambush brings a different perspective to the Venice-produced Alabama town that was rocked when respected attorney Atticus Finch defended a black man accused of assaulting a white woman .

“What we don’t hear or have is the presence of black people,” said Ambush, who is black. “I know there’s a counter-narrative in the black community that isn’t reflected in the novel or the adaptation at this stage.”

Ambush was quick to add that he didn’t change the production, but “expanded” it.

Dylan Grantham as Scout and Susannah Castle as Jean Louise Finch.

“I’m joining a black community,” he said. “I used a lot of extras in this production. That courtroom scene, everyone in the county came for it. It was a high-profile experiment and people flocked to it. I was packed in courtrooms Audience, white people on the floor, black people in the gallery.”

The script itself only identified four black characters, including defendant Tom Robinson (Alfred Redmond).

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