note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone
at Trinity Theatre, Providence
Trinity Repertory Company's current show is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel. Harper Lee's book was written in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961. The well known film version in 1962 starred Gregory Peck.
This show is a coming of age story of the innocence of childhood. It takes place in the middle of the Depression in Maycomb, Alabama in 1935. Scout and her brother, Jem take the audience on their summer of discovery in a neighborhood of eccentrics. From their father, Atticus Finch, they learn about compassion when a crises of social conscience rocks their sleepy town. Their father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Her father is a ne'er do well who lies on the witness stand, gets embarrassed by Atticus and threatens both him and his two children. The children learn about the harsh realities of life from the unfair verdict of the trial as well as learn from their father that most people are nice once you get to know them.
This story of love, courage and family is just as powerful now as it was when it was written back in 1960 with its heartwarming portrayals. Director Brian McEleney reconfigures the theater into a theater in the round and sets the show in a classroom setting. The expertise of direction and acting is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of this powerful show. This masterpiece of American literature is now a masterpiece of American theater at Trinity.
Brian casts this incredibly moving and well written show perfectly, using three adults for the child roles and three roles of color blind casting. His 13 cast members shine all night long especially the three performers playing the Finch family. Brian also has each cast member introduce themselves to the audience during the show and explain their loss of innocence which is absolutely poignant and brings many tears to your eyes.
Harper Lee lived through the trial of the Scottsboro Boys. This story is based on this event in Monroeville, Alabama when she was 5 years old in 1931 and the character of Scout is based on her. Harper Lee passed away on Feb. 19, 2016 at the age of 89.
Brian mixes the comic and dramatic elements of this powerful epic show splendidly. He also blocks it perfectly, utilizing every part of the theater and playing space available including chairs and table, too. Stephen Thorne is phenomenal as Atticus Finch as he displays his strong relationship with his children as he explains to them to really get to know a person that you must live in their skin which helps them overcome their fear of the unknown. He also show Jem how to have compassion for the elderly Miss Duboise after he destroys her flowers by making Jem read Ivanhoe to her to ease her pain before she passes away. However it is in the courtroom scene in Act 2 where Stephen's dialogue sizzles and crackles with intensity, leaving the audience breathless with its power.
Stephen's real life wife, Angela Brazil portrays Scout fantastically. She makes you believe she is really a grade school girl with her perfectly nuanced portrayal. Angela delivers the goods while obtaining laughs while arguing with the Cunningham boy, Jem and Dill and getting caught up in the crazy events in this town. However Scout finally understands what her father taught her about tolerance in the tender scene with Boo near the end of the show. She befriends him after the children had viewed Boo as some kind of monster for years because they had never seen him. Brava! Equally stunning is Jude Sandy as the mischievous, Jem who wants to play football with his father and finally becomes impressed when Atticus kills a mad dog, displaying his prowess with a gun. Jude handles the dramatic side of the character with ease. Jude hails from Trinidad and his own personal loss of innocence story is a gut wrenching one where his mother prayed for a boy but he felt maybe he should have been a girl and at the age of 8 to wear her high heels outside only to be caught by his father. His mother said the next day she'd kill him if he ever became a homo. Jude's interactions with all the other performers are excellent, too.
Mauro Hantman is terrific as Dill who is based on Harper Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote. He garners many laughs as he eggs the Finchs on to find out what Boo Radley really looks like. Dill runs away from home to stay in Maycomb for the summer. After the trial Dill explains he wants to become a clown to make people happy. Angela, Jude and Mauro are fabulous as these children. The sympathetic maid, Calpurnia is marvelously played by Mia Ellis. The maid tries to guide the children on the right path of race relations back then. Mia's funniest scene is when Calpurnia comes to the courthouse looking for the children who are there and chastises them as they leave and when they return to court. Two ladies living in the town who narrate and make commentary during the show are wonderfully played by Rachael Warren and Rebecca Gibel.
The dastardly villain of this show Bob Ewell is excellently played by Fred Sullivan Jr. who also plays Sheriff Heck Tate. Ewell hurls obscenities and spits on Atticus. He is a slimy and evil man who threatens to kill the Finchs and lies on the stand that Tom beat up his daughter, when he did it all along. As the Sheriff, he blames the death of Ewell as an accident to spare hurting Boo who saved both Jem and Scout from being killed by Ewell. Fred handles the transition from one character to the other with finesse. The deluded daughter, Mayella is well played by Alexis Green who delivers her hated filled testimony with proper intensity. The hate filled Miss Dubose is wonderfully played by Ashley Mitchell with the proper venom. Sympathetic characters include the defendant Tom Robinson and Reverend Sykes played splendidly by David Samuel. His heart warming portrayal and convincing testimony. Boo Radley is portrayed with quiet warmth and great dignity by Sinan Eczacibasi. Kudos to Brian, his cast and crew who make this a show to be very proud of. So for a powerful rendition of this classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird", be sure to catch this version before time runs out.