by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of us have read it…or were supposed to read it, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-winning novel of coming of age in a pre-civil-rights-movement South.
To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of us have seen it, Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance as a lawyer battling for justice for all set a standard for screen integrity.To Kill a Mockingbird, Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Lee’s book, is now playing at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space. You need to see it.
In a book, the action all takes place in your mind. On film, there’s an overwhelming closeness as faces fill the screen. On television, the characters are right there in your home. On stage, these people are alive, you are near them, you can touch them…but don’t; it interrupts the show for everybody else, and it frightens the actors.
Chris Carsten is a gentle, down-home Atticus Finch, the loving father and the high-principled lawyer that anyone would want to have on their side. Carsten doesn’t try to imitate Gregory Peck, to copy that austere demeanor. He is accessible, more open, yet every inch as impressive.
Finch’s daughter, Scout is the viewpoint character, and this play includes two of her viewpoints. Scout-the-child is given life by Bailey Short and Chelsea Newton on alternating performances. I saw Bailey give the character feisty life, ready to do battle with any perceived injustice, with an impish face reminiscent of the real Harper Lee. Chelsea is a stalwart Junior Company performer who shone in The Sound of Music, and she should do well in this role, with a face more resembling Carsten’s. Jean Louise Finch, the grown-up Scout, narrates the show in the form of Valerie Munoz with strength and loving tenderness.
The story centers on the trial of a black man accused of assault upon a young white woman, and the efforts of Atticus to bring the truth to light. Tom, the accused, is played by tony sanders (he prefers it uncapitalized) with an amazing amount of bottled energy. Tom gets no joy from telling his side of the story, knowing that the lines of Southern society have been crossed in all versions of the tale, and there is no way he will escape the white man’s justice. In tony’s hands, the character shows that knowledge, yet displays a hope and trust centered on Atticus. Mr. sanders will be a wonderful addition to the Valley theatre scene.
Patrick Tromberg has played Scrooge, just directed 2nd Space’s Beau Jest, and can build a mean set when he needs to. Here, he lets it all hang out, including his stomach, as the repulsive white-trash Bob Ewell. Oh, the guy is horrid! I have not seen any actor so hated and reviled by an audience since Bruce Dern shot John Wayne in The Cowboys. Good job!
Donna Beavers has trod the GCP boards for a long time in supporting roles, and she brings an acidic strength to Mrs. Dubose, a hard-to-get-along-with neighbor who teaches another kind of tolerance to Jem, Scout’s brother. Colin Clark-Bracewell provides an earnest youthfulness, eager and cautious, amazed at the depth of character he finds in his father.
Greg Ruud is almost spectral as the legendary Boo Radley, imprisoned in his own home by the traditions of his family and culture. On the online Basically Brandon show, Camille Gaston is a raucous and bubbly co-host. In Mockingbird, she is the housekeeper/mother-figure Calpurnia, watching over Jem and Scout…and Atticus…with an iron will and a worried understanding of her society. Henry Montelongo bounces from the family-ruling Abe in Beau Jest into the society-frustrated sheriff Heck Tate without a bobble or qualm, a stalwart support to Atticus.
GCP founding member Karan Johnson directs with tightness and confidence, keeping a strong focus on the humanity of the characters. The staging of the final, stormy confrontation was confusing to audience members who were not familiar with the story, but that will probably be remedied.
Mockingbird is a glimpse into a society many of us would not understand, yet there are issues that have not gone away. There is language that is jarring, language that was common in that era. Take your teenagers, talk to them about that world, and teach them by the example of Atticus Finch. Take yourself, and think about your values. Take your friends, and make GCP add extra performances to accommodate the crowds. This is a wonderful piece of theatre, and it deserves to be seen. It is on stage through October 14.
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