Monday, November 13, 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

Childhood Interrupted

One of the greatest novels of all time, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by Brenda Hubbard, is playing now at the Lakewood space, 368 S. State St., through December 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

“Times, they are a-changin,’” but this is a small town in the Deep South of the 1930’s, and “it ain’t necessarily so,” here.  On the surface it appears to be the story of injustice, as depicted in the trial of a black man, Tom, being falsely accused of raping a white girl, Mayella (Mamie Colombero).  But, at its heart, it is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl, Scout (in reality, Lee, herself) and her brother, Jem, as well as their friend, Dill (Brock Woolworth), growing up, perhaps too quickly, and experiencing things that could make you or break you.  In her case, her writing was her saving grace.

But she only had one story to tell, winning numerous accolades, and never wrote another, but it’s one for the ages!  It was quickly snatched up and made into a movie, with Gregory Peck, which is also considered a classic.  Another interesting note is that she also was a major researcher for Truman Capote’s (the inspiration for the character of “Dill,” who she knew as a child) classic novel, “In Cold Blood.”  Also of note is that Margaret Mitchell, also from the Deep South, only wrote one story as well, the classic, “Gone With The Wind.”

The precocious, Scout (Kate McLellan) and her older brother, Jem’s (Bram Allahdadi), father, Atticus Finch (Tim Blough), a respected lawyer, has been assigned the unpopular job of defending the young black man, Tom Robinson (Aries Annitya).  He knows it’s a no-win situation, even though his friend, the sheriff, Heck Tate (Hank Cartwright), knows he’s right, there is still the D.A., Mr. Gilmore (Rob Harrison), Judge (David Heath), as well as an all-white, male jury to convince.  But he believes in the rights and dignity of all men, so is willing to withstand the prevailing winds of deep-seated tradition.  He attempts to prove that Tom could not have committed the crime. 

But, again, this is the Deep South of the 1930’s, and Lady Justice is not blindfolded to the color of one’s skin.  Into this mix, his children are catapulted.  And, through their father’s homilies on life and justice, the children discover a basic human truth, that one should not judge another until they have walked in their shoes.  Again, that is the plot device to hang the story on but the reason it is so universal in its appeal, is that it goes way beyond that through the many supporting characters/sub-plots that exist.

Some of the lingering elements like this in the story are of the importance of the Afro-American in the white communities of the time, in the character of Calpurnia (Monica Fleetwood), the surrogate Mother, to Atticus’ children; the devastating effects of gossip, in the guise of Miss Stephanie (Rhonda Klein); the effects of drugs and alcohol on an individual; how we treat the mentally challenged; the result of mob violence, until you strip away the mask and expose the person underneath; the importance of law and order; the fact that Justice can prevail sometimes in the oddest of ways; how family abuse can go unchallenged; and how compassion can warm even the coldest of hearts.

Those involved in these transitions are the cranky, Mrs. Dubose (Jane Fellows); the faithful wife of Tom, Mrs. Robinson (Janelle Rae Davis); their pastor, Reverend Sykes (Eric Island); the conflicted, Walter Cunningham (Jeremy Southard); the abusive drunkard, Bob Ewell (Tony Green); the understanding neighbor, and sometimes narrator, Miss Maudie (Caren Graham); and the unforgettable, Boo Radley, (Matthew Sunderland).

This may be a hard play to watch and maybe, even harder, to digest but the truths of it are still self-evident and ever–present.  The key to understanding, perhaps, is simply, as Atticus espouses, in order to understand another’s situation and/or a person’s viewpoint, you have to get inside their skin and walk around in their shoes a bit.  I still contend that our fore-bearers begin our country’s anthem with “We, the people…” and we still have not yet achieved that goal.  It is also interesting to note that one of the final homilies that Atticus relates, is that people are not so bad once you get to really know them.  Also Anne Frank, victim in a concentration camp during WWII, in one of her last entries in her diary, said that she still felt people are basically good.  Again, universal perspectives. 

Hubbard, a well-respected, long-time theatre veteran, has managed to highlight all these various aspects of the story into a unified vision and done it very well.  The set, by long-time designer, John Gerth, is extraordinary, as it manages to maintain an authenticity all its own, as well as being the setting for a variety of locations of this tale.  Likewise, the costumes of the period by Sue Bonde, are spot-on.

The performances all had a ring of authenticity about them, as it was a bit un-nerving walking down a not-so-pretty aspect of our past.  Some of the acting that stood out for me was the explosive performances of Mamie Colombero as Mayella, the victim in the trail, and Tony Green as her abusive father, Bob Ewell.  They set the stage on fire, presenting us with characters to be despised, perhaps, but pitied at the same time, a burning intensity that was both compelling and hard to watch.

But, as I feel I must defend Lee’s book here, this is Scout’s story, flashing back on those troubled times, and it is her, as an adult, that should be narrating/reflecting on this tale, not a neighbor.  I, myself, directed this same version of the script some years ago at The Old Church and related my concerns to the adapter.  As it turned out, a few years ago another version of her novel that he adapted was presented at OSF, with Scout, as an adult, as the narrator, and it was superior to this version of the script.  In my opinion, that is the version that rings true to Lee’s original story and should be produced.

I recommend this production but, be warned, it does contain graphic language and situations true to this period and story.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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