Sunday, November 17, 2013

To Kill A Mockingbird—Battle Ground High School Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

“Eye of the Beholder”

This classic drama by Harper Lee and adapted to the stage by Christopher Sergel is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry.  It plays at their site through November 23rd.  For more information and tickets:,,
This is considered one of the great classics of literature, ranked alongside Huckleberry Finn and Gone With The Wind, as depictions of the South by Southern writers.  The Award-winning movie is also considered one of the great films of all time.  Lee won all sorts of accolades for her book and was a chief researcher on Truman Capote’s expose’, In Cold Blood.  But she, herself, never wrote another book and shunned publicity (as did Mitchell with GWTW).  I directed a production of the play myself and reviewed OSF’s fine production a couple seasons ago (check it out elsewhere in this blog).

For high school students today, to attempt to present such a searing story of a bygone era is admirable.  And, for the most part, they do well, because of the artistic leadership of their director, Henry, I’m sure.  He has definitely put the youth through their paces in presenting this production and it shows.  Future ambitious outings will be with Shakespeare and the musical, Grease.  He has his work cut out for him but, am guessing, all will be well.  For the

The story is based on true memories of Lee as a child in the Deep South, Macon, Alabama, of the mid-thirties.  The story is narrated through her eyes as an adult, Jean Louise Fitch (Bronwyn Richard).  In the play, she is the child, Scout (Bailey Baxter) and with her older brother, Jem (Markus King), and their neighbor (in actual fact, Truman Capote) Dill (Brendan Groat), they search out the secrets of life.  And their main adult anchor in this journey is her father, the lawyer, Atticus Fitch (Clifford Armstrong).

By the end of this rocky journey, some truths are discovered.  All living things must eventually die, some unfairly; people should not be judged by rumors; dark recluses might become knights in shining armor; most people are shades of gray; not all people are equal, some just have better opportunities; and the color of people’s skins should not be a deterrent in being who they want to be.  You need to walk around in someone else’s shoes in order to see the world as they do.  Results are in the “eye of the beholder.”

Atticus is asked to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Devin Johnson-Burch) for an alleged abuse on a white girl, Mayella Ewell (Sarah Russell).  Her father, Bob Ewell (Anthony Barnes), claims he saw Tom beating her.  The outcome is predetermined, as this is the Deep South of the 1930’s.  But the trial takes up a major portion of the play and we see the true make-up of the townsfolk through the eyes of wondering youth. 

Although justice may not have been accomplished for Tom, it does have a strange way of working, in ironic ways, toward punishing evil, awakening awareness in a town and giving hope for a potential brave, new world of the future.  In this little corner of earth, in a dreary niche of time, eyes are opened, fair maidens are saved, dragons are dispelled, and a people may live, if not happily, then hopefully, ever after.

The focus of the story is the three young people, and they are super.  Baxter’s Scout is articulate, lively, and very believable.  King’s Jem is an explosion onstage, very animated and vocal is his portrayal.  And Groat’s Dill fits into the trio nicely as the most refined of the group.  Armstrong as Atticus has the look and sound of the reserved lawyer and does well in his summation to the jury.  But I had wished he’d loosen up a bit, so we see more of the loving father and emotional side of the character.  And Kira Wirt as the nanny, Calpurnia, presents us with thoughtful and assertive character and does it convincingly.

Johnson-Burch as Tom comes across very well in the trial scene, giving the audience a simple but very articulate and good man.  Richard, as the adult Scout, does an admirable job, having just gotten the role a week before.  She has the right look for the character and the reading of the lines actually enhances the role.  But she needs to articulate more at times and slow down, as her part of the story is very important.

A couple of gems in small roles are Emily Pulley as Mrs. DuBois.  Both her acting and the make-up are quite effective as a very senior citizen.  Karlly Palica as Maudie, a neighbor, delivers well a powerful speech toward the end about the hope for the future.  And Barnes gives a nicely, sinister performance as the despicable, Bob Ewell. 

But the diamond in the rough and the most powerful single performance/scene is Ms. Russell as Mayella.  She is spot on in her examination scene in the trial.  The stage catches fire with her explosive, manic portrayal of this complex character, showing vulnerability, naivety, pain, and spit and fire in her few moments onstage.  And she is equally animated when she is sitting in the courtroom, watching the proceedings.  A talent to be watch in future endeavors!

Some suggestions I would offer are that the director may consider giving the narrator a mike, as some of the set changes are noisy enough to drown her out.  Also, the set changes, although swiftly done, probably could be reduced with some more inventive staging.  And a general note, the cast, as a whole, needs to slow down a bit more and watch enunciations/articulation.  They can actually be heard quite well, it’s just the understandability, at times, with some characters, that is messy.

I recommend this production but, be warned, it is about adult subject matter and uses the “n” word often.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective on this production, check out SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review at


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