‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Protagonist Invites Audiences to Relive (or Discover) Classics in Playhouse Square

CLEVELAND, Ohio — There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and those who haven’t. Playhouse Square welcomes two.

Some at Connor Palace in the coming weeks will have strong backgrounds in American literature. Others won’t even have heard of Harper Lee. According to the cast, though, there will surely be a point of connection to Aaron Sorkin’s Tony Award-nominated theatrical adaptation, which opens on Tuesday, April 26.

“Night after night, we were amazed,” said actress Jacqueline Williams, who played Calpurnia. “A lot of people are connected to this story. But you can also sense that some people don’t. We can feel their surprise and that brings us joy as well.”

The nature of that surprise varies from audience to audience, Williams said.

Williams said some viewers were looking forward to a direct adaptation of Lee’s original or a presentation reminiscent of the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, and were surprised to be steered in a different direction. Others were simply amazed at how boldly and openly the work dealt with racial justice, as she herself was when she first read it as a young girl in Mississippi.

Either way, Williams said, everyone has become a little more enlightened and more aware of the ever-present need for empathy and understanding.

“The message is landing,” she said. “It’s impossible for people to leave with blindfolds on. We’re reminding people again how much work we have to do. If we can all make a little effort, it will take us a long way.”

Another potentially surprising source is the character of Atticus Finch. Specifically, his role on the show and how he is portrayed.

Actor Richard Thomas, who plays Atticus, the most famous lawyer in literature, said Sorkin’s adaptation “completely respects the spirit of the novel” and is “unquestionably ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from beginning to end” ‘.”

At the same time, he said, it also focuses more on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, branching back and forth from that dramatic plot to a key point involving Atticus, Calpurnia and the pair. Reflecting on the children, Scooter and Jem.

In Sorkin’s version, Jeff Daniels, Ed Harris and Greg Kinnear’s Broadway portrayal of Atticus is not only a cornerstone of the story, but a layered, complex and well-rounded character , a man suited to his era. He was a great lawyer, to be sure, but he was less of a knight in shining armor and more of a loving father in small-town Alabama.

Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes – Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) in a scene from Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“On the show, he came off the pedestal,” said Thomas, best known for portraying John Boy on “The Waltons” and Nathan Davis on “The Ozarks.”

“I think the trick for Atticus was not to see him as a distant figure. He was just a guy trying to raise two kids. It was important to me that he was on a human scale…for him That said, it’s more of a personal journey than a journey in a book or movie.”

Calpurnia has a similar situation. A relatively minor role in the book and film, the black butler of the Finch family is featured heavily in Sorkin’s adaptation, a role Williams is honored to play.

“She was the voice of the black community in Maycomb,” Williams said, referring to the fictional Alabama town where the “Mockingbird” story took place. “She’s pretty much become a surrogate mother and a respected confidante. You really get the full picture of her relationship with Atticus and the kids.”

Of the two types of people mentioned above, most adults fall into the former category. They read “The Robin” at some point in school, when Thomas said young people had begun to develop “a sense of what the world is like and what’s right and wrong”. A few, like Williams, may have even read it more than once.

But that’s one more reason for those people to go on stage to see it. Both Thomas and Williams said that as adults in 21st-century America, it was instructive to return to the 1960s classics. Both found Lee’s story to be richer and more powerful than they remembered.

“It’s crazy to have it come back into my life this way,” Williams said. “I’m grateful for that on another level.”

to kill a robin

Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia” in a scene from Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo by Julieta Cervantes.Photo: Juliette Cervantes


“To Kill a Mockingbird”

what: Aaron Sorkin’s dramatic adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic

when: Tuesday, April 26 to Friday, May 13.

Where: Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

Tickets: $20-129. Visit playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.

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