by Julieta Cervantes
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Ron Cohen
has done a monumental job in transplanting Harper Lee’s revered novel To
Kill a Mockingbird into dramatic form. And it’s being performed in an
emotion-grabbing production that helps elevate an extraordinary Broadway season
for straight plays to even rarer heights, a season that already boasts such
gems as the overwhelming pulse of life in The Ferryman, the nearly
unbearable tension of American Son, and the anticipated majesty of
Glenda Jackson in King Lear.
approach to Mockingbird shows none of the damaging constraint or impulse
to include everything that can stiffen an adaptation of a beloved classic. His
affection and respect for the novel is more than evident in just about every
word, but his script also vibrates with his own emotional and intellectual
investment in the material.
you’re a Mockingbird fanatic. You may walk into the theater with a
checklist of plot points and characters ready to see how Sorkin handles them
all, but you’re quite likely to forget completely about it, as you get caught
up in the storytelling and the humanity that radiates from the stage, as the
people of 1934 Maycomb, Alabama, come vibrantly alive.
Sher’s direction is also a wonder, in simply managing the comings and goings of
his 29-person cast (including the two onstage musicians who play Adam Guettel’s
incidental music), negotiating their appearances – looking so right in Ann
Roth’s costumes -- against the many set changes of Miriam Buether evocative
scenery, flawlessly lit by Jennifer Tipton. But much more important is the
apparent guidance he has given his performers in absorbing their characters,
from the persuasive rural South accents to the deepest levels of their inner
breathes both fire and gentleness into the role of Atticus Finch, the lawyer
whose respected position in town is both heightened and threatened by his
defense of the black man Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), accused of rape. His
accuser is Mayella Ewell (Erin Wilhelm), the eldest daughter of the town’s
outcast white family, living near the town dump.
version of Atticus is a bit rougher-edged than the almost unflappable Atticus
of the book, but every moment rings true in Daniels’ triumphant performance.
His courtroom summation of Robinson’s defense is an absolute spellbinder, and
is a sharp clarion call against racism, as pertinent in our time as it was in
splendid, and perhaps even more miraculous, is Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout,
the eight-year-old daughter of the widowed Atticus. As in the novel, Scout is
the narrator, and Sorkin and the actress capture completely the voice, the
curiosity, the innocence and the smarts, and the heart of this young person,
viewing and eventually caught up in the turmoil caused by the participation of
her adored father in the Robinson trial.
performer, Keenan-Bolger totally inhabits Scout’s young demeanor, and as in the
book delivers a dual consciousness, that of the young girl learning about life
and in the telling of it somehow suggesting the acquired wisdom of adulthood.
This is particularly evident in the play’s final moments when Scout learns a
key lesson from her father’s behavior: facts must sometimes be compromised to
achieve a greater good. As all you Mockingbird readers and moviegoers
know, it’s a lesson that comes with the death of Bob Ewell (Frederick Weller),
Mayella’s ferociously bigoted and despicable father, and concerns the Finch’s
reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley (Danny Wolohan), who emerges as a key figure in
the tapestry of Mockingbird.
the puzzling circumstances of Ewell’s death a plot point from the play’s very
beginning, and it provides a theatrically effective arc for the narrative.
Keenan-Bolger, two other adult actors performing as youngsters are also
impressive, Will Pullen, as Jem, Scout’s older brother, and Gideon Glick as
Dill, their summertime pal, a visitor to Maycomb from out-of-town. Glick’s
exuberance as Dill initially seems overdone, but once his troubled family
background is revealed, it all falls into place and Glick’s portrayal emerges
as a heart-breaker.
Gideon Glick as Dill and Will Pullen, as Jem, Scout’s
in this assemblage of sterling performances, LaTanya Richardson Jackson brings
both humor and moral authority to Calpurnia, the Finches’ black maid and
stalwart of the household. Sorkin deepens Calpurnia as an outspoken nay-sayer
to racism and racists, poking holes in Atticus’s dictum that all persons, even
the most bigoted, have somewhere a shred of dignity. In the same vein, Sorkin
adds anti-Semitism to Bob Ewell’s brew of bigotry, accusing Atticus of having
“Hebraic blood” in his defense of Robinson and tearing apart of Mayella’s
notable contributions include Dakin Matthews’ wry officiating of the courtroom
as Judge Taylor; Stark Sands’ relentless evil in his questioning of Robinson as
prosecutor Horace Gilmer; Danny McCarthy as the inherently right-thinking
Sheriff Heck Tate; Phyllis Somerville as the ill-tempered and ill ancient town
lady Mrs. Henry Dubose, and Neal Huff as Link Deas, who pretends to be the town
drunk so folks will leave him alone.
just about everyone else involved in this production seemingly excel. They
assure that Harper Lee can rest peacefully, knowing that her Mockingbird
sings beautifully on Broadway.
the Sam S. Shubert Theatre
235 West 44th
currently selling to November 3.