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Book, movie, now play for the ages & Review of To Kill a Mockingbird
Book, movie, now play for the ages & Review of To Kill a Mockingbird
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

To Kill a Mockingbird
Book by Harper Lee
Adapted by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Fracaswell Hyman
Intiman Theatre
September 14- extended to November 10


Ever since I was a young girl, I have known that theater can change people's lives, teach them, move them, and/or excite them. When I was twelve, I went with my classmates to see a play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, at Goodman Theater in Chicago. I still remember the magic I felt and how I felt changed when I left. It is my belief that many schoolchildren will be indelibly altered when they see the Intiman production of To Kill a Mockingbird - as they should.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been a seminal novel since it was printed in 1960. The movie, released in 1962, was an instant classic, partly based on the bravura performances of Gregory Peck and Mary Badham (who played Scout, the little girl). In 1969, Christopher Sergel wrote the sanctioned adaptation for the stage. To see the production on stage is to experience an immediacy not quite available through the book and movie. It becomes a personal experience.

Just in case you have forgotten the basic story, Atticus Finch is defending a young black father, Tom, against a charge of raping a white girl in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama. Finch and his children are persecuted for his "traitorous" defense and abandonment of "white" civilization, since the man is automatically considered guilty unless proven innocent. However, there was no real innocence allowed to a black man in Alabama, at that time in history. Finch's defense is expected to be, and turns out to be, a failure, even though the evidence of Tom's innocence is clear. The story is harsh, but it is discovered through the eyes of Finch's young daughter, Scout, whose understanding of her father's conscience grows through the events that unfold.

The production hinges on two essential actors: Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout. David Bishins embodies Finch and is every bit as believable and conscientious as called for. He radiates the calm, determined attorney who believes that "in the court of law, every man is created equal." Young Miss Keaton Whittaker gives a fresh, disarming, unaffected performance with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran.

They are surrounded by many true, pitch-perfect performances, such as Patti Cohenour, as the supportive neighbor, Nick Robinson at Scout's brother and best playmate, Lori Larsen as the not-so-supportive neighbor, Russell Hodgkinson as a devastatingly ugly Bob Ewell - the father of the so-called raped daughter, and Liz Morton, the downtrodden, beaten young woman who cries rape falsely, under pressure. The role of Tom Robinson (the alleged black attacker) is played by Sean Phillips in a manner so true-to-life that it's palpable. Even parts with fewer lines are performed with great grace (no small actors, these), such as Josephine Howell, as the housekeeper Calpurnia and William Hall, Jr. as Reverend Sykes, not to forget the heartbreaking momentary performance of Peter Crook as Boo Radley, a mysterious recluse who comes out to save the children.

The thrust stage set by Alex Hammond is a wonderful, atmospheric rendition of a small town, with it's dusty roads and sagging homes. Designer Alec Hammond captures this essence and includes a startling, enigmatic addition of numbers of bright red chairs hanging, noosed, from the girders above. The chairs subtly suggest lynchings, and from one actor's report, are to represent all the black neighbors who could not speak. Adding to the eerie atmosphere is harmonica playing by Sean Phillips and William Hall, Jr. They perch themselves above the audience or in a tree in a sort fey elvish manner.

If a director can be said to meld all the parts into a whole, then Fracaswell Hyman has baked a great tasting cake from the ingredients. Since the production has already extended twice, it gives more schools opportunity to bring their classes for a real, in-person history lesson. It's a harsh one, with language (many "n" words) that makes one flinch, but it's real for its time. The audience is involved directly during the trial, as everyone becomes the jury. This is how the play was written. It cuts both ways. The audience can't really render a verdict, though it feels like we should. Also, later, the jury is addressed as men, clearly no women supposedly present, much less whether there is anyone of color. We, the jury, can't stand up and scream how unfair the whole situation is. Boy, that's amazingly frustrating!

For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call (206) 269-1900. Emails commenting on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com
Autumn Insert

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