note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
The more you go to the theater outside the mainstreram, the more convinced you'll be that this is where the talent is. Witness the Vokes Players' "To Kill A Mockingbird", set in Ronald L. Dion's picture-perfect ramshackle southern town "where grass grows in the sidewalks" and sagging porches frame genteel whitewashed homes. Behind these lovely pale porticoes, however, lurks the evil of racism.
The White inhabitants of Macomber, Alabama, believe "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" but they're not so enlightened about humans. Christopher Sergel's adaptation of the Harper Lee classic is faithfully realized by director David Berti and company, and you won't find a false note in the production.
John McAuliffe plays Atticus Finch, a highly principled White lawyer, called upon to defend a Black laborer (Dennis Roach) unjustly accused of raping a White woman. The time is 1935. The judge and jury are White. The verdict is guaranteed. Lee's point, made over and over in myriad ways, is that real courage comes "when you see you're licked and you begin anyway." The hitch is, for me anyway, that the courageous people in Lee's novel are the Finches --- Atticus and his plucky children --- who stick by the defendant despite the rancor of the town.
The narrator too tells the children that the "guilty" verdict can be viewed as a victory because the jury "stayed out so long". Some victory for the defendant! Dead is dead --- which is why I don't think the story holds up today. It's from the wrong perspective; not to mention that the White folks get all the good roles.
My opinion aside, you can't argue with the production. Berti's direction is flawless; each scene has a painterly quality (especially lit so hazily by Imagine Arts), and some moments, like Boo (Mark Leach) waving goodby, last long after the play has ended.
McAuliffe gives an elegant performance as the cool-headed lawyer with the patience of Job (and the voice of Jimmy Carter!). Jaime Slatt and Jonathan Silver are the adorable children who try his patience, aided and abetted by Max Bizantz as their frenetic friend Dill. Joanne Powers gives a luminous performance as the kindly, wise narrator and Lauren Cochran is infuriatingly charming as the bigoted busybody in Jennifer Howard's marvelous hats.
Excellent work is turned in by Suzanne Wilkins as the Finch's long-suffering housekeeper, by Myra Ramos as the crotchety old neighbor lady, by Mike Gowing as their fair-minded sheriff, by Dennis Roach as the bewildered defendant, and by Robert Prescod as the concerned reverend. Everyone's contributions make this Mockingbird sing.