Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird now through March 12. Tickets available HERE
–by Vicki Lee
Tuesday’s visit to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Saint Louis was a real treat: the opening night of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird. The performance of Aaron Sorkin’s version of a story everyone assumes to know is a revelation of the humor and pathos of family, growing up, race and social injustice. The story is set in Georgia in 1934 but it addresses issues of systemic racism and poverty that continue to be issues today.
I came to the theater knowing that it is a thoughtful, poignant story but I wasn’t prepared to laugh and find so much humor. It was a welcome relief from the tension, the anger, and the heartache of Sorkin’s version of the story.
The acting was top notch with the three “children” narrating throughout the story; Melanie Moore was amazing as Scout, the inquisitive narrator, straightforward and innocent; Justin Mark was outstanding as Jem, at odds with his father and yet ever admiring, growing into manhood; and Steven Lee Johnson as Dill, was exuberant, imaginative and so heartbreaking. All of them gave strong and believable performances.
Richard Thomas was a convincing Atticus Finch, full of conviction and kindness, an idealist who doesn’t want to believe in the evil that his neighbors are capable of committing. Thomas plays the character quietly but passionately; deadpan humor with the judge or the children; arguing fervently for the humanity and dignity of Tom Robinson. He takes us with him, even when we want him to stand and fight – to give back as good as he gets. His is a very human portrait of Atticus Finch, full of blind spots and idealism.
Yaegel T Welch as Tom Robinson brings a humanity to the role, silent and wanting to believe but knowing the dangers better than Finch. His dignity and presence on the stage add gravitas to the scenes when he’s present. His reluctance and then his fire on the witness stand were part of his outstanding performance. Calpurnia, played by Jacqueline Williams, is a strong character and she understands what Atticus cannot, that the people in his town would rather kill an innocent man than face the racism of their belief. She is a wonderful foil to Atticus, in that she recognizes the evil of the jury and the innocence of Scout and Jem. Williams performed a tightrope walk of caring and enraged, clear-eyed and soft hearted; it was a powerful performance.
The sinister Bob Ewell, Joey Collins and his pitiful, awful daughter Mayella, Arianna Stucki, were sure footed in their performance, repellent and crafty throughout the show. Judge Taylor, played by Davis Manis, was as idealistic and misled as Atticus and leading us to believe the improbable was possible. (He also looks a lot like Bernie Sanders in his makeup and robes!)
And a finally, a shout out to the grumpy Mrs. Dubose, Mary Badham, who was Scout in the well-known film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird; it was a joy to find her still taking part in the story. The ensemble as a whole was a wonderful, tightly woven web of emotions. The cast singing a hymn at the end was a fitting ending to the murder of Tom Robinson and Atticus’s realization that “not everyone who looks good, is good” as Mr. Deas would remind us.
A quick note about the set which was both Georgia’s porches and live oak trees and industrial, barren interior. A friend and I wondered at the broken windows in the set design and have decided that there is some subtle reference to the “broken window” policing/economic policies that equate broken windows with poverty, crime and violence. While the broken windows were always on the stage, when the set was the Finch home they seemed unnoticeable, but in the courtroom scenes they loomed over the court, the table of the prosecutor and the white spectators gallery. It was an ominous foreshadowing throughout the play.
I would highly recommend going to see Mr. Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird while it is at the Fabulous Fox. Be prepared to look at our own time through the lens of the past; it will make you laugh, it will make you cry.