To Kill a Mockingbird review: Story grapples with the past while finding its place in the present

Atticus Finch is a beloved character in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Gregory Peck (Gregory Peck), best known for his role in the 1962 film of the same name, has been considered a paragon of virtue for more than half a century.

But, in today’s parlance, should he be cancelled?

Playwright Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – now on an impeccable national tour, filled with Richard Thomas as Atticus An extraordinary ensemble led by (Atticus) – played with the issue.

The answer is: yes, no.

Looking at the bigger picture, we should also wonder if this is really the right question.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

In Sorkin’s story of a white lawyer agreeing to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in Jim Crow South, Atticus remains the embodiment of civilization, struggling to see in everyone the best side.

But that kindness also seems self-willed, almost absurdly blind, to the depths of racial hatred he harbors for his “friends and neighbors.” Even his own children sometimes doubt his incrementalist, even submissive, views. He is a good man and very naive. He was likely part of the problem, though he was very effective at articulating it: “We can’t go on like this,” he pleaded in the final debate. “We have to heal this wound or we will never stop bleeding.”

The double-sided quality of Atticus wasn’t the only challenge in contemporary production of the play. Sorkin, even in the core world of the original (where Lee Manor sued him for his relatively small liberty before solving it), couldn’t get away from this fundamental problem that will forever be the problem.

White Southern attorney Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas) defends Tom Robinson (Yager T. Welch), a black man accused of killing A Mockingbird” raped a white girl.

It’s not just the frequent use of the word “n” – it’s another entirely open debate. In the end, the story revolves around the trial of a wronged black man, the protagonist of a white saviour lawyer, and the naive view of his daughter growing up and discovering prejudice and injustice. The whole conceit is a pat on the back in order to awaken the evil in the world.

At the same time, black characters who are victims of evil are both aesthetically and socially subservient. Sorkin did significantly increase the engagement of Atticus’ butler Calpurnia to make some voice, a sarcastic voice in this case, but wow, that’s a free-fantasy view of the domestic servant relationship.

To be clear. I love this show. At the same time, I’m wondering maybe I shouldn’t.

Had it been written today, this work would not have been possible to produce. It’s really only worth doing because it’s so ingrained in American culture, but requires some form of critical distance to avoid irrelevance and offense.

Definitely a critical distance of “some” form, both in writing and direction. But it’s still an empowering distance, with a business-minded sheen.

With this limitation in mind, it should also be said that if you’re looking for pure theatrical craftsmanship, you can’t do better than what’s on stage.

Sorkin is always so adept in courtroom dramas (he starts with “a few good guys”), starting directly from the trial and flashing back, emphasizing the memory aspect of the work, but much closer in time. He also spreads the narration among the younger characters to avoid a monotonous voice.

This Bartlett Sher-directed production is visually stunning and has a creative elegance in how characters move through and around Miriam Beuther’s wallless landscape. Adam Guettel provides a beautiful soundtrack that perfectly expresses sadness – but not too sad! – Tone.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus (Richard Thomas) and his daughter Scott (Melanie Moore) have a heart-to-heart on their front porch exchange.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus (Richard Thomas) and his daughter Scott (Melanie Moore) chat on their front porch.

Then there’s the acting, which is so compelling and moving that no matter how cautiously resist you want to keep, it pulls you deep into the story. Thomas, who has been the embodiment of American health since his days as the John-Boy Walton of television, doesn’t hesitate to show us the downsides of that quality. Child characters Scott (Melanie Moore), Jem (Justin Mark) and Dill (Steven Lee Johnson) are all played by adults who use wonderfully specific bodies to Expresses youth, but recognizes that their language is too age-appropriate. force it. It’s all completely real.

As Caponia, Jacqueline Williams, familiar to Chicago audiences, rolled her eyes and controlled her words in a way that was both comical and complex. As defendant Tom Robinson – who ended up being the victim of a tragic story – Yaegel T. Welch was the quintessence of the human nobility, and ultimately far more than Atticus himself. wide awake.

As the unabashedly racist Bob Ewell, Joey Collins deftly links humiliation and vitriol. As his daughter Mayella, Arianna Gayle Stucki erupted from a whisper into a racist rant.

The sad thing about all of this, of course, is how it sees America today, as it might have been a decade ago. Today, the Ewell family in the country is in power.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the flawed Atticus Finch will once again drive the national narrative.

That would be problematic and wrong. and an improvement.

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