Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird hits Broadway in 2018. (Yes, That Aaron Sorkin). Directed by Bartlett Sher, the play took audiences to Alabama in 1934, where Atticus Finch represented a black man who had been falsely accused of sexual assault. The show’s national tour takes place this week at DPAC, bringing the story to life with powerful performances and beautiful design.
Sorkin chose to build the show through the young protagonists Scout, Jem and Dill to tell the story to the audience. They shuttle between trials and the events that led to the trials, which works well for this format. Melanie Moore and Justin Mark are an effective pairing for the Finch brothers, bringing youthful energy and innocence to their characters. Dill, played by Steven Lee Johnson, is excellent, capturing all the comedy moments and bringing frivolity to an otherwise serious story. Ann Roth’s costumes place the story firmly in the 1930s setting, while Miriam Buether’s impressive sets bring many of Alabama’s scenes to life.
When To Kill a Mockingbird first premiered, Sorkin was criticized for taking a lot of liberties with the book. Mainly to focus more on Atticus (Richard Thomas) than Scooter as the protagonist and give him a stronger arc. Thomas was an excellent Atticus, bringing dignity and strength to the small town lawyer, but the funniest part was watching his “everyone has a good guy” attitude give way to being aware of some of his neighbors How racist and horrible. That’s a welcome change, considering how naive and even irresponsible these initial beliefs may appear in 2022.
Thomas has terrific chemistry with Jacqueline Williams, who plays Caponia, the housekeeper who keeps the Finch home running and isn’t afraid to be clever when Atticus disagrees with him Let Atticus know. He also does a good job of showing the close relationship between the stern but fair single dad Atticus and his two children.
The show doesn’t shy away from its dark themes, nor does it try to hide the threats from the KKK or the implicit sexual abuse within the Ewell family, which the film adaptation only hints at. Strong judgment is recommended as to whether it is suitable for younger children. There are plenty of (period-appropriate) strong language and hard-to-see KKK members threatening Atticus with their headscarves. Arianna Gayle Stucki does a great job playing Mayella Ewell, a teenage girl who accuses Tom Robinson (played by Glenn Fleary) of sexual assault. The courtroom scene where she collapses under Atticus’ cross-examination is chilling because it highlights the plight of her life.
Unfortunately, the show couldn’t keep up with its nearly three-hour run time, and the second act dragged a bit. The accent work is also questionable, with certain actors struggling to keep the Alabama drag. However, the show is well worth watching because it illuminates the inadequacies of American justice and the prejudices that have long plagued our nation.
The massive cast is filled with talented and dedicated performers, including one very special. Mary Badham made her screen debut as a Boy Scout in the 1962 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, earning herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She quit show business a few years later, and has had only a handful of roles since the 1960s. However, she made her first theatre tour as Mrs. Henry Dubose, a racist old woman who criticized Scooter and Jem as they walked through her house, eventually encouraging Jem to destroy her beloved camellia bush . It was a real treat to see the history of someone helping tell this story in our own Durham.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will be held at DPAC on August 7th.You can find out more information and buy tickets here.
Photo credit: Juliette Cervantes