The Repertory Theatre’s stunning must-see adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” emphasizes the power of Harper Lee’s perceptive and timeless prose.
Some 57 years after publication, Lee’s Southern-steeped microcosm of a segregated small town in 1935 demonstrates how ugliness — ignorance, fear, inequity — can derail human dignity.
One reason “To Kill a Mockingbird” is required reading in schools today and has sold more than 40 million copies since 1960 is that it reminds us that doing the right thing is always the best choice, but it does so wrapped in a touching coming-of-age story that’s ageless and universal.
Through innovative staging by director Risa Brainin, we are riveted to this familiar story. She has framed it as a memory play, with a grown-up and self-assured Jean Louise (Lenne Klingaman) as narrator, recalling a significant summer of her youth.
If you have seen the classic black-and-white movie, those indelible, well-drawn characters are brought to life here with vivid color.
The carefully cast ensemble has drawn their distinctive characters in both broad and nuanced strokes to convey the ordinary people of Maycomb, Alabama.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” Atticus Finch tells 8-year-old daughter Jean Louise, aka “Scout.” That insight endures today.
Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel allows heart and humor to break through. The gut-wrenching aspect that poverty and prejudice influenced the fate of an innocent man in the time of Jim Crow still packs an emotional wallop.
Tom Robinson, a black man, is unjustly accused of raping a white woman. Her story is flimsy, but the sensational trial is the talk of the town.
One reason ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is required reading in schools today and has sold more than 40 million copies since 1960 is that it reminds us that doing the right thing is always the best choice, but it does so wrapped in a touching coming-of-age story that’s ageless and universal.
Attorney Finch compassionately defends Robinson. His two children are curious, especially tomboy Scout, whose rebellious streak is beginning to emerge.
Finch, the noble depiction of integrity, is played masterfully by Jonathan Gillard Daly. He finds the right inflection, the right cadence and makes astute choices to portray the iconic role, never attempting to clone Oscar winner Gregory Peck.
How Atticus imparts wisdom to his rambunctious children, and their new friend, is eloquently realized. The lessons on how the world works burn bright as youngsters, forever remembered as they are carried through life.
Here, you sense the children have listened. The trio of youngsters couldn’t be more impressive. Twins Kaylee and Ronan Ryan are Scout and Jem, possessing a shorthand that helps them interact. Newcomer Charlie Mathis is comical as Dill, the well-mannered but precocious personality patterned after Lee’s real-life pal Truman Capote. They are all natural, obviously well-guided by Brainin.
There is a rhythm that’s unique to this production. The small tight-knit black community moves through scenes by singing spirituals and gospel songs, their voices strong in unison. Using music to depict their culture and struggles was a brilliant stroke, punctuating the racism and discrimination.
Michael Keck plays the Rev. Sykes, a revered anchor of his flock. He also composed and directed the music that’s an effective thread throughout.
Terrell Donnell Sledge is heartbreaking as the doomed Tom Robinson. Kimmie Kidd displays her vocal prowess as his worried wife, Helen.
Tanesha Gray is solid as loyal Finch housekeeper Calpurnia, devoted to and exasperated by the kids. Her supportive neighbors include soulful singers Miriam Dance, Alicia Reve Like, Melissa Harris, Jason J. Little and Felicia Rogers. They add another layer of poignancy.
Creating the ebb and flow of summer days in a sleepy little town is enhanced through local snapshots — Amy Loui as neighbor Miss Maudie, Cynthia Darlow as crotchety Miss Dubose, Jerry Vogel as longtime Sheriff Heck Tate, Whit Reichert as Judge Taylor, Ben Nordstrom as the arrogant prosecutor Mr. Gilmer and Christopher Harris as the misunderstood recluse Arthur “Boo” Radley.
Alan Knoll uses every move and spiteful inflection to portray bully Bob Ewell, while Rachel Fenton is his daughter Mayella, carefully building outrage and delusions as the perceived victim.
A minimal set designed by Narelle Sissons reflects the courthouse and Finches’ backyard, with an enormous tree as the focal point, a symbol of carefree play, secrets and lost innocence. Moving mobile set pieces can be a tad distracting, but otherwise the production flows efficiently.
The work stresses that empathy and justice are ideals worth striving for, whether during the Depression or in 21st Century, challenging us to be our best selves in difficult times.