To Kill a Mockingbird
Alley Theatre, Houston
March 30-April 29, 2007
Directed by Paul Barnes
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee
Starring John Feitch as Atticus Finch
We’ve read the book (well you should have!), we’ve wept during the movie, so why bother with the play? Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, To Kill a Mockingbird, stays true to the gentle character of the book through and through. A true to the text approach keep Harper’s gracious prose intact while giving us a physical intimacy with these memorable characters. The Alley’s production, under Paul Barnes keen direction, is wonderfully unfussy. It’s a “back away from the masterpiece” approach, allowing the story to unfold with its own southern grace. By bringing the narrator (an older Scout) right on stage, we don’t get cheated out of Harper’s words. It works.
John Feltch, an Alley company member from 1990-2000, makes a long-awaited return in the role of Atticus Finch. Despite looking like a dead ringer for Gregory Peck, Feltch has his own take on Finch, portraying the saintly southern lawyer with a kind of understated stoicism and a radiating kindness. His towering yet quiet presence anchors the play. Andrea Maulella’s strong performance and gentle presence as the older Scout serves as a reminder that his is a memory play. Tommy Waas is convincing as Jem, too wise for his own good older brother. Jennifer Laporte’s pixie charm as Scout is all innocence and wonder. Wesley Whitson is adorable and authentic as Charles Baker “Dill” Harris, the character supposedly based on Truman Capote. Alice M. Gatling plays Calpurnia with a sturdy charm. Elizabeth Bunch imbues Mayella Violet Ewell with a good dose of troubled confusion, and Jeffrey Bean as her ignorant, racist, and abusing dad is chilling. David Rainey’s performance as Tom Robinson brings us inside the impossibility of the situation. Alley veteran James Belcher is believable as the sheriff that seems to cave in a bit too easy, and Bettye Fitzpatrick brings her usual feistiness the cranky old neighbor, Mrs. Dubose. Chris Hutchison’s scene as Arthur “Boo” Radley saving the day is reason alone to see the play. Looking abysmally uncomfortable in the open space, he twitches and stiffens from fresh air. Scout walks him home, and then the narrator chimes in to list the litany of things Boo had given her. She counts her life among them. This is a scene well worth seeing in the flesh.
Bill Clarke’s sparse set consists of a lifelike tree, the front of Boo Radley’s decrepit house, and half of the Finch’s porch. At times it feels a tad empty, but as the play goes on the space serves the action well, allowing for the text to actually take up physical space. Do we need anything else? A swing descends from the ceiling for the famous porch scene. The court room scene fits nicely in the open space. It’s basic and uncluttered in keeping with Barnes’ concept.
A good adaptation should let the message of its original text ring through. This one does, with grace and power.