To Kill A Mockingbird runs through April 17 at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul
"To Kill A Mockingbird" is both a great American novel by Harper Lee, and a stellar movie starring Gregory Peck. It also exists as a play, and is currently on stage at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Thinking of going? Check out these excerpts of recent reviews to get a sense of the show... click on the links to read them in their entirety.
A half-century after its publication as a novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" retains its full potency as a simple tale full of complex truths, and the stage version now at Park Square Theatre nicely gives the story its due...
...At the center of this production -- as of all productions -- is Atticus Finch, the softspoken, self-effacing small-town lawyer with a bedrock sense of justice that leads him to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. Fred Wagner doesn't bring soul-stirring resonance to the role; his Atticus is more human than heroic, more laconic than lion-hearted. But Wagner moves comfortably in the role, and his impassioned closing argument at trial hits all the right notes.
...The three young actors who tell much of the story -- Elizabeth McCormick as Scout, Emma Wondra as her brother Jem and Jasper Herman as their friend Dill -- have the right look and feel for their roles, and though they each display a nice sense of presence on stage, all are a little mush-mouthed, meaning that the audience periodically loses lines and bits of plot because of their underarticulation.
If their words aren't consistently clear, the larger story of "To Kill a Mockingbird" remains definitively so.
Fred Wagner as Atticus
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a tale that doesn't grow old with the telling, as Park Square Theatre's current production ably demonstrates. While it encapsulates a time and place in America's past, the story's themes, characters and basic sense of humanity simultaneously transcend specificity.
Director David Mann and a sizable cast allow Christopher Sergel's stage version to unfold at a lazy pace, evoking endless summer days. Neighbors chat on porches and children play ball, while the scent of flowers and the distant music of a gospel chorus fill the air. Designer Joel Sass' lovely set evokes this idyll with graceful windows and arbors that roll in and out of place and a backdrop arched with trees.
...Warren C. Bowles, as Reverend Sykes, and his accompanying congregation -- Nina Black Zachary, Michael L. Brown, Delores G. Matthews-Zeno and Annamichele Spears -- fill the stage with music and even bring the audience to its feet at the end.
While this production loses a little steam after Atticus' fiery closing speech at Robinson's trial, it's a solid piece of work that argues for its place in the canon of American literature.
Scout (Elizabeth McCormick), Dill (Jason Herman) & Jem (Emma Wondra)
Photo by Petronella Ytsma
...The main problem is that there's a bit too much connective tissue needed to make these moments clear. There is a lot of talk about what has happened, and an adult version of Scout is on hand to basically provide stage directions. At times it feels like just a greatest-hits run through the book--hey, now Atticus is going to shoot the mad dog!
Thankfully, there's enough energy to keep the play moving between the slow spots, thanks to Fred Wagner as sage, "ancient" father, and attorney Atticus and Elizabeth McCormick as tomboy Scout. The two--along with brother Jem (Emma Wondra)--feel like a real family, one with troubles but also plenty of affection and love. That comes out best in the first act, when Scout and Jem help Atticus defuse a potential lynch mob from killing his client Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman.
Director David Mann smoothes over any rough spots (though maybe a bit more work on the accents--at least making sure they remained consistent through the show--would have helped) and Joel Sass crafts an elegant set that bridges all the locations used in the play and helps bring steamy Depression-era Alabama to life.
Have you seen Park Square Theatre's production of "To Kill A Mockingbird?" If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.