note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Chuck Galle
Maycomb, Alabama; 1935. Surely, that is sufficient information upon which to build a plot. You might almost say, "The South, before WWII." The theme is racism. Not civil rights movements, marches, sit-ins, freedom "fighters" murdered as the price of equal treatment. But racism. Cold, blatant, thoughtless, reckless racism. Good people never giving a thought to the tradition of separation that they lived with in Christian brotherhood and love. Everyday, ordinary people who could say "I loves my nigrahs. Why, we couldn't probably get along round cheer without our nigrah friends. They lives just down the street, don't they?" and never examine the emptiness of soul their words betrayed. And other, smaller people who need such traditions because they give them some one to feel better than, because they believe feeling better than some else makes them feel better about themselves. And bigger people who spoke carefully but firmly about the evil such traditions wreak upon both those who support traditions of oppression and those who are oppressed by them. Harper Lee's Atticus Finch was one of those bigger men. Drawn from a reality many in the north fail to recognize, Atticus represents those, few perhaps but nonetheless extant then, who were embarrassed by the attitudes prevalent in the old south, and jeopardized their lives and careers by refusing to be intimidated by them. Already castigated for lawyering for black clients, when the local judge appointed him attorney for a black man accused of raping a white young woman, it was because he knew Atticus would provide a fully constitutionally guaranteed defense. Maybe he knew what an incredible education it would provide to the towns children, also. One could easily think so.
This, of course, is the story that drives To Kill A Mockingbird, the play dramatized by Christopher Sergel from Lee's novel, and from which spin the stories of a handful of other interesting people. Scout, Atticus' nifty little daughter; Jem, his perfectly everyday ordinary boy of a son, "Boo" Radley, the overly shy neighbor whose heroism will ever remain a tightly held secret, and "Dill" Harris who adds the subtle spice to the stew. Each of these characters becomes life and blood real as the story unfolds and we are each drawn into our own understandings of what it means to live in this world. This, it turns out, is an intensely personal play. Personal to each of us who see it. This play is a mirror. I recommend you go see yourself, for yourself.
It is being effervescently performed at Maudslay Park, Newburyport MA at 2:00 PM Saturdays and Sundays through October 1st. In order not to be accused of being too gushy let me point out the two failings immediately. The prologue, read apparently from Leeıs book by director Scott Smith was uneven and sounded unrehearsed. He can not simply read it aloud cold. It must be rehearsed or the halting at unfamiliar sentence turns is unflatteringly noticeable. He needs to read it into the mirror a couple of times so that he can look up occasionally without losing his place. He also needs to speed up the first several actors who appear for the curtain call. Actors should run onto the stage to receive their acclaim in gratitude and modesty, not saunter out as if going to the church social.
There. Now letıs talk about what's right. Everything else.
Erin Guay, Sam Rosen, Mike Thurston, Kate Johnson, Angelique Odom, Bonnie-Jean Wilbur and Beth Randall kick this show off with heart and spirit. With the ever so slight hint of a Southern accent - not accent really, but a touch of drawl - and a small town warmth and neighborliness, we are introduced to the little town and itıs gossips and near scandals in short order. The kids are kids, the folks are folks, and the itch of upcoming drama are fed to us with charm and humor. We are tickled pink to laugh every chance offered in the first twenty minutes or so because we all know the story and we all know laughter is going to become hard ironic chuckle as the plot unfolds. It is mildly tempting to think of the famous movie and itıs famous star, but that temptation evaporates as soft spoken Mike Thurston projects his passion to the last row in a manner that is marvelously his own. David Adams as the scurrilous Bob Ewell and Cara Olansky as his pathetic daughter do the parts up brown, and our distaste for them feels so self righteous it is positively sinful. Julian Thompson does a truly stand-up job of the truly stand-up Heck Tate. Kevin Collins gives Judge Taylor just the judicial demeanor needed to make us trust him. I donıt know which of two Mrs. Duboses I saw, Beth Blanchard or Pearl Hartt-Wilbur, but her lively crabbing was a delight. Dason Leoney delivers a rock solid performance as the falsely accused Tom Robinson, making us believe him and care for him, at our own risk. This is a fine cast and a superb show.
Itıs funny the things we find out in life. I encountered an old friend at this show and we sat near each other on the ground right down front. We have many things in common, which is why, no doubt, we are friends. Toward the end of the show when the tension was so almost unbearable, and the emotions swirling in me so overwhelming I did what I so often do and found my eyes stinging and full. As I reached for the handkerchief my mother told me to always carry I heard the unmistakable sniffle of tears from beside me. Ah, the things we humans have in common!