‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Stage Play Is More Relevant After Aaron Sorkin’s Tweak, Stars Say

“To Kill a Mockingbird”‘s national tour opens May 17 at Chicago’s Netherlander Theater, and according to the actors who play the story’s iconic characters, it’s more needed now than ever it.

How does a play set in a sleepy town in 1930s Alabama relate to audiences in a city like Chicago today?

The story of a young girl and her father, a lawyer defending a black man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman and put on trial for his life, remastered by “The White House” creator Aaron Sorkin The story, humanizes the characters, especially Atticus Finch, the lawyer and father of Gregory Peck’s icon in the 1962 film version. The film won three of eight Academy Award nominations, including Peck’s for Best Actor.

Sorkin’s script, his 2018 Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, also lends more depth to the show’s black characters, especially Capo, the Finch family’s black chef Nia and black outfielder Tom Robinson on trial.

Jacqueline Williams, an Evanston native who plays Calpurnia, the cook who helps widower Atticus raise his children Scooter and Jem, may be interested in this The most important thing about the drama’s relevance is how America has changed since the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“This is important because we now have all sorts of horrors in terms of injustice and brutality, senseless arrests and murders, and now we face the threat of overthrowing Roe v. Wade, let’s go back 50 years before,” Williams said. “The story is still needed.”

Unlike musicals, plays generally don’t tour; Chicago is the fourth stop on the show’s 40-city tour that ends in June 2023. Actors say this provides an opportunity to spread the message of the story across the country. They feel a sense of mission to do so.

Richard Thomas, best known for playing John Boy on the TV series The Waltons, played Atticus Finch. Thomas, speaking in Cleveland, the show that runs before Chicago, said Sorkin made Atticus vulnerable, something he believes audiences in any city today can understand.

Jacqueline Williams as Caponia in To Kill a Mockingbird. “The story still needs to be,” the actress said of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

“You can’t play an idol, you can play a person, and Aaron made him such an important person,” Thomas said. “His flaws and shortcomings are very obvious. His desires are clear, as are his frustrations and sense of humor.”

Thomas said the play is as much about Atticus’s struggles with parenting as it is about racial justice.

“It’s as important as parenting and how you shepherd your children when the realities of the world come upon them,” he said.

Sorkin decided to delve into the show’s black characters so that it wouldn’t be criticized as a white savior race story, Williams said.

“You really feel [Calpurnia’s] The relationship with Atticus, Jem and Scooter,” Williams said. “She’s a black anchor in the community, and Atticus can’t get involved because he’s coming from a white perspective, even though he’s supportive of it. Some insight from Calpurnia, or even something from Tom, makes Atticus more human in his arc and his journey than a savior.

Yeager T. Welch, who played Tom, agreed.

“Atticus is the perfect beacon in the book and in the movie,” Welch said. “In this story, Sorkin humanizes and fleshes out Atticus. It’s not about whether he’s perfect or not. He also has to learn from the show.”

Welch, who also played Robinson in the Broadway version of the play, said he noticed differences in audiences before and after George Floyd.

“What’s interesting about doing this show before George Floyd was killed is that the audience is very nostalgic,” Welch said. “There was no call and no response. After George Floyd, we actually heard boos and shocks from the audience, especially Calponia and Tom, because they were saying what people were thinking , and these things were written by Sorkin.”

Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham are among the cast of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Badham played the Scout in the 1962 film version of the novel.

Welch said he prepared for his role by getting to know the thousands of black men lynched in the United States and put on a show for a different victim each time the curtain rose.

“Tom Robinson is fictional, but the story is real, and it’s been true thousands of times,” Welch said.

For the audience, he said, “We can only hope they learn something and that they leave the theater with more empathy.”

Welch, Williams and Thomas say one of the enjoyments of the touring version of ‘The Robin’ is that Mary Badham, who played the Scout in the 1962 film, is now in the story A very different character – Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, racist, morphine – addicted Finch neighbor. Badham said the story is more important than ever.

“It’s so timely,” Badham said. “It carries life lessons that we haven’t learned yet. So unless we don’t need to do it anymore, our work won’t be done.”

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, an Alabama attorney who has a double duty: defending a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white girl, while raising himself without a mother children, including his daughter Scooter (Mary Badham) in the 1962 film The Killing of a Mockingbird.  ”|

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, an Alabama attorney who has a double duty: defending a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white girl, while raising himself without a mother children, including his daughter Scooter (Mary Badham) in the 1962 film The Killing of a Mockingbird. ”|

Badham said bringing Game City to the city helps the movement keep the novel in schools, which has been attacked for years for its racial content.

“I’ve given a lot of speeches in schools urging them to keep this story in the curriculum, and we’re fighting an uphill battle right now to keep it in schools,” Badham said. “I don’t get it. At this point, we feel besieged. But this drama helps continue that.”

Thomas said the show remains true to Harper Lee’s spirit, despite mixed reviews from critics who criticized Sorkin for revising some of the novel’s material.

“That’s the beauty of the classics,” he said. “You can continue to interrogate it, revise it and bring it up so that what’s enduring in the source material isn’t lost, but other issues are addressed that reflect the changes we’ve gone through and what we’re going through correctly Now.”

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