By Jordan Wright (Photo/Matt Liptak)
It’s been 56 years since Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published and less than one year since her follow-up, “Go Set a Watchman,” hit the bestseller lists to a flood of controversy.
Much has changed since 1960. Or has it? A quick glance at today’s headlines reveals that bigotry, the police killings of unarmed black men and racial intolerance continue.
Given the current political climate and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is particularly timely that we find opportunities to re-examine the role of racism in America. And how better to revisit these issues than with this cautionary tale?
To that end, Little Theatre of Alexandria producers Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Robert Kraus have chosen well to select Frank Pasqualino to direct this well-crafted and impressively cast production.
The story, narrated on stage by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as Scout 30 years later (Melissa Dunlap), is set in a small town in the Deep South, where Jim Crow laws were still firmly set in stone. Black families lived on one side of town and whites on another.
Atticus Finch (Richard Fiske), a liberal lawyer in a town of bigots, nosy parkers and those best described as adherents to the Klan, is a wise and calming presence in an otherwise lightning hot moment in time. His young daughter Scout (Olivia McMahon) is an outspoken child with a wealth of curiosity about everything, especially the peculiar nature of prejudice and intolerance.
Her older brother Jem (Jack Kearney) does his best to keep her innocent queries in check, as does their trusted housekeeper, Calpurnia (Brenda Parker), who cares for them with a no-nonsense attitude and a guiding hand.
When their young friend Dill (Nathaniel Burkhead) comes from Mississippi to live with them, their world grows a little larger and their adventures a little bolder. As they roam the town together, the children become targets of racial slurs about their father, who is defending a field hand against charges that he raped a white woman. Atticus urges them to turn the other cheek. “If you want to understand someone, you gotta walk around in their skin,” he cautions them.
The first act explores their small family, the mysterious “Boo” Radley, an elusive neighbor who’s been holed up in his house for 30 years and their relationships with the townspeople of Maycomb, setting the stage for the trial — and attempted railroading — of Tom Robinson (Larry Boggs) that unfolds in the second act.
The townsfolk present a polyglot of opinions on race; those who are educated and liberal, those of the hardworking black families, and, in sharp contrast, their antagonists who are white, poor, uneducated and bigoted.
Bob Ewell (Paul Donahoe), Tom’s accuser, and his daughter Mayella, the presumed victim (Skye Lindberg), fall into the category of the latter.
The trial and its aftermath are the most gripping aspects of this story. It is here in a small, segregated courtroom that the viciousness and brutality of racism is revealed in the cold, harsh light of day.
An excellent cast delivers humor and pathos with brilliance and dignity. Especially outstanding are McMahon, Parker, Fiske, Donahoe and Tony Gilbert as Judge Taylor.