ANNOUNCING $29.00 STUDENT RUSH FOR ALL REMAINING PERFORMANCES AT THE HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES THEATRE
ALSO Great $59.00 seats available for select performances
NOW PLAYING THROUGH NOVEMBER 27TH
When Harper Lee wrote her novel To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she didn’t think it would be a big success. Sixty-two years later, the book has been taught to millions of students in schools, was the source of a classic 1962 film of the same name, and recently inspired a theatrical version written by Aaron Sorkin that was a Broadway hit. There are many reasons this material still speaks to modern audiences, but perhaps the most vital is that its depiction of racism feels topical again with the rise of far-right zealotry. The current production at the Pantages is effective and enjoyable, with a nice lead performance from Richard Thomas, but a few missteps keep the production from being as strong as it might be.
In 1934 young Scout (Melanie Moore) and her older brother Jem (Justin Mark) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed lawyer father, Atticus (Richard Thomas). Scout’s a tomboy and likes to have adventures with Jem and his friend Dill (Steven Lee Johnson). Things get more serious for the family that year, however, when Atticus is requested by Judge Taylor (Richard Poe) to be the defense attorney for Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch), an African American man accused of raping white Mayella Ewell (Arianna Gayle Stucki). Mayella’s father, Bob (Joey Collins), is a Klan member that threatens Atticus and his family for defending Tom, and as the trial proceeds, the idea of whether justice is even a possibility in Maycomb is a question that is put to the test for all involved.
Thomas has both the requisite charm and gravitas as Atticus, and especially shines in his courtroom scenes. Moore is fine as Scout, but her Southern accent frequently and weirdly keeps sliding into a deep New York accent, which is a major distraction. Mark scores as Jem, the young man frustrated with his father’s tolerance, and Johnson is memorable as the upbeat Dill and brings a comic sweetness to the proceedings. Welch is very good as Tom, whose essential decency is his downfall, and Poe excels as the judge, a rational man in unreasonable times. Stucki is excellent as the victim turned victimizer Mayella, but Collins is over-the-top as Bob, all but twirling his mustachios indicating how evil he is. Mary Badham, who played Scout in the film, is clearly having a ball as the vituperative Mrs. Dubose, and that’s a delight to see. Finally, Jacqueline Williams does strong work as the frustrated Calpurnia, sharpening the edge of Atticus’ morality.
Bartlett Sher’s direction of this touring production is competent if colorless, and the fact that he’s letting a couple of the performances slide so noticeably isn’t impressive. Miriam Buether’s imposingly tall courthouse set adds a useful sense of grandeur to the show. Sorkin’s adaptation of the novel is largely successful, although changing the narrative focus from Scout to Atticus doesn’t pay the dramatic dividends he presumably thought it might. The bones of the piece are still intact, but a scene wherein Atticus addresses the audience to talk about the evils of racism seems like a ploy for cheap applause.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfectly fine production at the Pantages, and I liked it, but it falls somewhat short of the greatness I was hoping for.
To Kill a Mockingbird is presented at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre and plays through November 27, 2022.
As an English teacher for over 20 yrs, teaching this novel was always a highlight. However, I struggled viewing the play with its rearranged character dialogue, it’s disjointed timeline and lacking many of the most memorable quotes.