Play: To Kill a Mockingbird
Group: Metro Theater Company
Venue: Edison Theatre, Washington University campus
Dates: January 16, 17, 18
Tickets: From $8 to $16; contact 314-935-6543 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Christopher Sergel’s two-act drama is adapted from Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a young woman’s recollections of growing up in the segregated South of the 1930s. Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout as a young girl, recounts the story of her widowed father, a small-town Alabama attorney, who takes on the unpopular role of defending a black man accused of raping an itinerant white woman. Despite suffocating odds, Atticus Finch steadfastly works to present the case of his client, Tom Robinson. He also teaches his children the value of looking at the world through the eyes of others in order to better understand what makes different people tick, including their mysterious and rarely seen neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley.
Highlights: Metro Theater Company is collaborating with Edison Theatre on this handsomely mounted production that succeeds in telling this inspiring story to another generation of audience members. The matinee performance I attended was played before several hundred students who were absorbed in the drama and its messages of love and tolerance. To her credit, director Carol North keeps the proceedings moving at a brisk clip while also delineating the various characters in the story.
The handsome set designed by Dunsi Dai neatly packages a row of small, tidy porch fronts on the expansive Edison stage, and John Wylie’s lighting design shines the spotlight consistently on the action, while also focusing on the omniscient narrator when needed. Lou Bird’s costumes effectively set the time and place, from the summer suits of Atticus to the overalls and shabby dresses of the impoverished Ewell family. Sandy Weltman adds a nice touch as a strolling minstrel playing folksy period music.
Other Info: There’s effective work throughout North’s hard-working cast, most notably by Stephanie Strohman as the self-assured, adult Jean Louise and Nicholas Kryah as her dedicated, devoted father, Atticus. Two sets of three children rotate in the roles of Scout (Emily Jackoway, Berklea Going), her brother Jem (Jimmy McEvoy, Hal Matthews) and their nerdy friend Dill (Parker Donovan, Drew Redington). The former all did fine jobs at the particular performance I viewed.
Solid supporting work is offered by Greg Johnston as the banal and insidious Bob Ewell; Kelley Ryan as the congenial Maudie Atkinson; Roxane McWilliams as another neighbor; Beckah Voigt as the officious Mrs. Dubose; Eddie Webb as the Reverend Sykes; Dominic Richardson as Tom Robinson; Bobbie Williams as the Finch’s maid, Calpurnia; Martin Casey as Walter Cunningham and also as the reclusive Boo Radley; Andrew Keller as the prosecuting attorney; Susan Arnold Marks as Mayella Ewell; Chuck Lavazzi as Mr. Radley and as the presiding judge; Jeffrey Awada as the sheriff and Simchah Sharath as Helen Robinson.
The primary problem with this production, as with others I’ve seen, is that the role of Atticus Finch is indelibly stamped with the definitive, Oscar-winning performance by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film. Additionally, Robert Mulligan’s direction of that classic always has proven too formidable to stage versions, no matter how noble their intentions, and Metro Theater’s version is no exception.
Kryah is competent as Atticus Finch but cannot compare with Peck’s portrayal; even his compact physical appearance is jarringly opposite the late actor’s gangly physique. Likewise, North’s direction seems to gloss over or simply squander many poignant moments, most especially in the work’s surprising finale.
Still, as a lesson in American history, this production pays fitting tribute to one of the 20th century’s most endearing and enduring novels.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.