Imagine a black man on trial in a segregated courtroom in Depression-era Alabama accused of raping a local farmer’s daughter and defending himself before an all-white, all-male jury of local farmers .
It’s hard to imagine a person getting a fair trial, even if he’s innocent, which happens to be in the to kill a robin (★★★★☆), Aaron Sorkin’s fascinating adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
At some point in American history, the race, class, and gender dynamics driving Lee’s flammable scene may feel oddly, ridiculously outdated, outdated. We haven’t. RobinThis Southern-fried courtroom drama still has plenty of compelling truths in its way of reflecting on racial injustice.
Defendant Tom Robinson (Yager T. Welch), the official black man in the 1930s, faces the electric chair—if the lynch mob hadn’t done it first. It seemed that standing between Tom and his worst fate was the most decent and honest white man in the county, a man named Atticus Finch who called himself a village attorney.
For this smooth tour of director Bartlett Sher’s Tony-winning Broadway production, Richard Thomas embodies Atticus’ kindness and complex moral reasoning.
In the American imagination, Thomas is revered as an honest and decent country boy who infuses his portrayal with enough self-doubt and self-awareness to complicate the character’s heroic status without diminishing his integrity as a exemplary image.
Sorkin’s script — narrated by Atticus’ precocious daughter Scott (Melanie Moore) and wayward teenage son Jem (Justin Mark) — draws attention to Artie The Cs tend to justify the bigotry and racial hatred expressed by their “friends and neighbors.” He also encouraged his children to treat everyone equally. Don’t judge a man unless you walk a mile in his skin, he admonished Jem and Scooter.
Atticus’ conflict was named by the family’s chef, Caponia, and Jacqueline Williams toyed with him with wit and shrewdness. Jem, increasingly frustrated with his father’s intolerance of his neighbors, is also critical, seeing Atticus as docile in the face of corruption and hatred.
Thomas and Mark layer Atticus and Jem’s father-son conflict with love and respect, so it really stings the boy’s disappointment, or his father’s voice raised in anger. On the other hand, in the moments of deep sympathy between the two, the actors developed a tenderness that heals all wounds.
Moore deftly plays the Boy Scouts’ role as the town’s unpretentious, innocent, and trustworthy guides, and our eyes and ears are often only partially theatrical. Her Alabama accent wobbles — and, intentionally or not, sounds like Amy Poehler’s super-kid character Kaitlin signal to noise ratio – but the feature is valid.
The Finch family’s rapport, egged on by Williams’ Carl Ponia, strengthens their bond with audiences as the family is attacked both literally and figuratively. The script and direction reveal the rhythm of the court case with clever timing, which applies almost as well to the humor, except that some of the comedy beats are beaten too hard.
Miriam Buether’s beautifully landscaped designs are not at all heavy. Works slide in, gently descend, or gently roll into place, link up, turn a bare stage into a courtroom, or enter the front porch of a Finch house. The town comes to life in the environment as well as in the ensemble.
Yaegel T. Welch as the brave defendant Tom Robinson, Steven Lee Johnson as the summer visiting Dill, and Richard Poe as the shrewd judge Taylor provide a solid method of support. Joey Collins’ Bob Ewell, the grumpy father of the alleged victim Mayella, hints at a parody of a hillbilly villain, but Arianna Gale Starkey as a prevarication The peasant’s daughter is quite charming.
Mary Badham, who played Boy Scouts in the film version at age 10 (becoming the youngest Oscar nominee at the time for Best Supporting Actress), as the eccentric, vexatious Mrs. Henry DuBose) made a drastic shift.
While it’s just as fun to watch DuBose brazenly insult everyone who meets her, she’s a very powerful example of the kind of hatred that keeps this story up to date, making honest and decent people fight for justice.
to kill a robin At the Kennedy Center Opera House until July 10th. Tickets range from $49 to $199. Call 202-467-4600, or visit www.kennedy-center.org.