It has been over 30 years since I last read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” so I went into Tuesday night’s performance at DPAC not knowing exactly what to expect. What I experienced was a magnificent performance of the Aaron Sorkin adaptation masterfully delivers a new look on a classic tale anchored by a supremely talented cast.
Set in Alabama in 1934, a black man named Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch) is on trial for a crime he did not commit, and his fate hangs in the balance as he faces a jury of all white peers that could send him to the electric chair if he is found guilty. This is and enduring story of racial injustice and childhood innocence. At the center of the story is one of the most popular characters in American literature, the honest and meek small-town lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas), who grapples with his vision of justice and its place in the world. The adaptation manages to capture the very essence of the novel and it skillfully grapples with the age-old question: Who deserves to be treated with respect?
The amazing cast for this fantastic production is rounded out with a small but wonderful set of characters that includes Atticus’s daughter Scout (Melanie Moore), her brother Jem (Justin Mark), their housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams, their visiting friend Dill (Steve Lee Johnson) who help cast a wary eye over some of the books more idealistic details as well as provide some well times comic relief set against the more serious tone of many of the scenes. In fact, one of the play’s greatest strengths is its ability to showcase a wide variety of emotions by including several humorous and childish moments along with the somber, serious, and sad ones.
Visually, the show is remarkable. The sets offer a great sense of depth with scenes set in the house managing to create both an inside and outside world. Alongside lighting and costumes, it perfectly complements the mood of the scenes and transforms the stage into the 1930s Alabama. The set transitions are very smooth and natural, with the acting seamlessly carried through.
The play stays true to the source material while also switching things up a bit with scenes that jump around from place to place in a non-linear fashion – I really enjoyed this approach to telling the story and found it well-paced and very easy to follow. The non-linear timeline also allows for contrasting scenes to be pitted right up against each other, enabling the audience to see many sides of the complicated narrative.
I truly enjoyed seeing this story played out on stage and appreciate the fine performance of the artist who have brought this American Classic to life. This production artfully tackles serious, relevant questions, and the cast delivers brilliantly, making this run of the show a must-watch in my book!
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, August 7th. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/to-kill-a-mockingbird