One of the most popular characters in American literature, attorney Atticus Finch, starred in the famous actor Richard Thomas in Harper Lee’s Killing One Played at Playhouse Square on the national tour of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Thomas, 70, plays a small-town lawyer battling racial injustice in Maycomb, Alabama, in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel .
Thomas, best known as John Boy on the ’70s TV series “The Waltons,” received applause from the Playhouse Square audience when he entered as Atticus on Wednesday night. The last time he toured in Cleveland was on “Humans” in 2018.
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In this beautiful work, which does both justice to the novel and fleshes out some of the key characters, the storytelling is engrossing and fast-paced. At the same time, it also allows the characters and the audience to breathe in moments that are both heavy and beautiful.
Set in 1934, the stage play follows attorney Atticus defending a false accusation by black Tom Robinson of raping a white woman in the Depression-era Deep South.
Lee’s novel, loosely based on the characters and events of her childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.
Sorkin’s stage adaptation, which premiered on Broadway in 2018, is told by the story’s three children — Scout, Jem, and Dill — separate from the novel’s sole narrator, Scout. This dramatic technique puts Atticus at the heart of the story and puts the drama’s trial front and center.
Unlike the book’s long-running depiction of childhood games, the stage play quickly enters Tom’s trial and jumps back and forth in time. To Kill a Mockingbird is a drama about racial injustice and the loss of childhood innocence, including mature themes, racial slurs and prop guns.
Young adults Melanie Moore, Justin Mark and Steven Lee Johnson play Boy Scouts, Brother Jem and friend Dill in very believable fashion. They created the mannerisms and language of the children, while also displaying the intelligence and curiosity of the trio.
Of particular note is the very funny Moore, who created a tiny but fiery presence as a Boy Scout. Her Boy Scouts often work with Jem to protect their lawyer father, who is threatened and ostracized by the rest of the community.
In the trial play scene, three children gathered around the action. One of Moore’s most memorable moments is when Scott seems to look back on her memory, approaching Tom’s accuser, Mayella Ewell, and staring at her hard after Mayella’s outburst.
Arianna Gayle Stucki creates a creepy portrait of a young Mayella, with her eyes dead and in the cowering pose of a battered woman.
The brilliant Thomas created a dry, confused style, and like Atticus, Scott described him as Maycomb’s most honest and decent man. Atticus chose to fight racial injustice in his quiet, gentlemanly way.
But in this stage of the adaptation, it becomes more apparent that even Atticus is flawed. He hits a breaking point in a new scene where he uses ugly language and resorts to force against his opponent.
Filled with beautiful storylines and scene changes, “To Kill a Mockingbird” features an organ hymn featuring an original musical score by Adam Guettel. Miriam Buether’s set is striking, with a large Finch porch, split in half, with a hanging roof, windows and doors. The dilapidated, rotting back wall of the courtroom appears in every scene.
We don’t see a fire in a neighbor’s house on this show, and Aunt Alexandra doesn’t live in Finch’s home, both of which are in the books. Without the child character constantly staring at the enigmatic neighbor Bradley, he would be even smaller in the story.
Sorkin creates new conversations that thankfully help us better understand key people. Among them was the falsely accused Tom, who with quiet dignity played Yeager T. Welch, who during his first meeting with attorney Atticus asked him to let him speak and then shared his fears of children.
Carl Ponia, a black chef played by the terribly dry Jacqueline Williams, also stands on a more equal footing with Atticus, challenging him and drawing on what Scooter describes as a sibling relationship. way to mock him. Strengthening her personality and their relationship with an employer beyond servants adds depth to the story.
Sorkin also builds on the background of a young Dill, adding a layer of loneliness and sadness to the boys who come to Maycomb each summer.
Other notable actors include deaf actor Anthony Natale, who signs as Witness Linkdis in most of his dialogue, and actress Mary Badham, who played the young Scout in the 1962 film and is now in Play the hateful old lady Mrs. Henry Dubose on stage.
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It was only with the hasty retelling of the children who attacked Atticus in the dark night that the telling of the story began to falter. We didn’t see the attack, and the initial description of the violence was a postscript to the story, not a big, shocking moment.
Having said that, Lee’s beautiful work of this great American classic is a must-see, and includes plenty of love and humor. Excitingly, less than a month before the 2020 COVID-19 closure, 18,000 students in New York City public schools watched the show at Madison Square Garden in New York, creating the largest attendance ever for a single show .
Art and restaurant writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
drama: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Where: Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, Cleveland
when: Running through May 15, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, Sunday at 1:00pm and 6:30pm
On stage: Starring Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore, Jacqueline Williams, Justin Mark, Yeager T. Welch, Steven Lee Johnson
offstage: Aaron Sorkin, adaptation; based on Harper Lee novel; Bartlett Sher, director; Adam Guettel, original music; Miriam Buether, set designer; Ann Roth, costume designer; Jennifer Tipton, Lighting Designer; Scott Lehrer, Sound Designer; Brian L’Ecuyer, Production Stage Manager; Sari Ketter, Associate Director; Kimberly Grigsby, Music Director; Campbell Young Associates, Hair and Wig Design
information: playhousesquare.org or 216-241-6000