To Kill a Mockingbird at the Kennedy Center

L-Richard Thomas and Melanie Moore to kill a robin.
Photo by Juliette Cervantes.

Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird has legions of fans, as does the 1962 film, but it’s best to forget the source material and simply savor what’s in JFK right now The drama of To Kill a Mockingbird at the center. Playwright Aaron Sorkin wrote a stage adaptation that was a huge success in his own way. While the successful Broadway play still carries the beloved book’s literary merit, a touch of Southern Gothic has been stripped away. The growing pains of two children growing up in the town of Maycomb, Alabama in 1934 are still stressful, but the emphasis on social justice and tolerance appears to be extended from the source material. The characters have moral complexity, which gives each character an opportunity to paint a more realistic depiction of the complex human condition.

Directed by Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher, the show explores the paradox of living a life of conscience in a world where inner needs collide with the rule of law. In this innovative game, this conflict is played out through several technical choices. It opens in court, with scenes from the courtroom to Finch’s home switching back and forth in a non-linear fashion, showing the vast difference between the strict rule of law and the warmth of home.

At several important moments, such as when daughter Scooter recounted the proceedings, Atticus addressed the audience like a courtroom, and the fourth wall was broken. This approach gains complicity from the audience, but may sometimes turn to a didactic or informative tone. Adapting all the subtleties of this novel is very difficult, so the sometimes dissonant alternating tones of this stage of the adaptation undercut the theme of the loss of innocence. Its central theme is the sin of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, as it sings only to please—a good representation of humanity as a whole.

The character of attorney and father Atticus Finch (actor Richard Thomas) can be unbelievably noble, but here he is fleshed out as a man who can lose his temper if pushed too far . He is portrayed as a man who struggled with the conditions of his time with a combination of realism and idealism. This more human portrait of Atticus made it easier for him to resonate.

The talented Richard Thomas further fleshes out his character with humorous understatement, earthiness and patient grit. Thomas’ long speech, in which he pleaded and implored the court to face justice (in Tom Robinson’s trial), was a masterclass in acting and won applause from the audience (rare in drama). Thomas’s scene with the housekeeper Carl Ponia (Jacqueline Williams) is uplifting, and his scene with the children is tenderly portrayed.

The Girl Scouts characters entertain Melanie Moore with precocious verve and sassy attitude.

Justin Mark gave a clear and direct explanation to son Jem Finch.

As Dill Harris’ character (based on a young Truman Capote), Steven Lee Johnson offers a lovely and funny interpretation.

Travis Johns played the role of Boo Radley sensitively.

Despite their flawless performance, rugged Bob Ewell (Joey Collins) and his intimidated daughter Mayella (Arianna Gale Starkey) aren’t as rounded as the rest of the cast, Seems more like a symbol of manga personification. This creates the necessary emotion to show the ugliness of racism, but it would be more powerful if it was brought out more gradually.

Yaegel T. Welch delivers a poignant and dignified performance as the innocent accused Tom Robinson, conveying his fight for the respect everyone deserves.

Sheriff Heck Tate (David Christopher Wells) and Judge Taylor (Richard Poe) provide strong and unwavering support as legal symbols of the southern town.

Mary Badham (the original Scout in the famous 1962 film) portrayed the brash Mrs. Henry Dubose in quick time.

The theme of prejudice and racism is no longer a theme, but a radical visceral reality that is the touchstone of the show’s writing. The role of Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) has been expanded to the show’s strengths, as it offers an opportunity to comment on oppressive racial, social and class constraints. Ms. Williams is brilliant in all of her scenes, especially the one where she learns that Tom Robinson has died (her chest rises and falls with exhaustion and despair–I won’t forget the stage choice any time soon–) .

The show’s ending has a fascinating apocalyptic streak – the dead Tom Robinson appears in his house with Atticus. With all the characters appearing – dead or alive – (like the ending of the musical “Les Miserables” and the movie “A Place in Your Heart”), it’s an incredibly moving moment.

It occurred to me that rewatching the play in a more intimate venue might be judged as the opera house space seems a bit too big for such intimate material (maybe the scenery needs it?). I don’t know if it’s because of the sound system, the speed of speech, or the thickness of the accent. Some of the supporting characters can’t understand many lines; when the two couples used street voices to ask each other what they were talking about all night, the question was pushed to the audience. in etiquette. (The audience continued to act rudely as if they were in their own living room, and the two of them turned on their phones to write text messages during the performance, while the woman sitting next to me chewed and scratched from her purse for most of the night. from crunchy snacks).

The set, designed by Tony Award-winning Miriam Buether, was astute as the courtroom’s massive grey walls innovatively became the home of Atticus Finch; it dropped easily and conveniently from the top of the stage. A tree in the yard and court lighting are also dropped overhead to dramatic effect.

Tony Award winner Jennifer Tipton’s light management is excellent.

Tony Award-winning Ann Roth’s outfit is perfect for the vibe of this piece. Tank tops, ties and jackets fit nicely, and skirts are beautifully cut. The Scout’s appearance as a ham (representing the produce grown and sold in Maycomb) is delightful.

The original soundtrack by renowned composer Adam Guettel (Light in the Square) is evocative.

The production has an ambitious feel to it, akin to the musicals “Todd the Sweeney” and the plays “War Horse” – requiring some judicious listening and interpretation from the audience. Audiences will respond positively to the show due to its timeliness and sheer professionalism.

Adventurous theatergoers will be rewarded with theaters that challenge traditional expectations. “All up!” As we were advised on the show – To Kill a Mockingbird is daring, exhilarating, exploratory drama!

Duration: Two hours and thirty-five minutes, with a fifteen-minute intermission.

To Kill a Mockingbird will be held on July 10, 2022 at the Kennedy Center at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566.

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