by Lynn on October 10, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre

Written by Harper Lee
Dramatized by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Allen MacInnis
Designed by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Lesley Wilkinson
Sound by John Gzowski
Starring: Hume Baugh
Lisa Berry
Matthew G. Brown
Mark Crawford
Joan Gregson
Thomas Hauff
W. Joseph Matheson
Jeff Miller
Jessica Moss
Tal Shulman
Noah Spitzer
Caroline Toal
Rudy Webb

A stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s book about growing up innocent in a loving family in the south, until a horrible crime happens and some innocence is lost after that.

The Story. It’s based on the beautiful 1960 novel by southern writer, Harper Lee, and dramatised by Christopher Sergel. Our narrator is a tom-boy nicknamed Scout by her family. She has a brother named Jem. Their father is Atticus Finch, a fair-minded lawyer and a widower. They have a housekeeper named Calpurnia. One summer in 1935 their idyllic lives change when Atticus defends a black man named Tom Robinson, accused of raping and beating up a 19 year old neighbour, who is white.

During the trial Scout, Jem and a new friend sneak into the courthouse to see Atticus defend the man. The children are given a rude awakening about how black people are perceived and treated by whites at that time. They see how fair-minded and serious Atticus is. Atticus proves that Tom Robinson didn’t commit the crime and points suspicion elsewhere. The person who is suspected threatens to get even with Atticus. He almost achieves his goal too.

There is also a mysterious neighbour named Boo Radley. The children have never seen him but often talk about him and wonder what he is like. In a sense Boo Radley is another example of how people treat those who they perceive as different in some way. Something happened in Mr. Radley’s life and he has almost never stepped foot out of his house, as far as anyone can tell. Mr. Radley comes to Scout and Jem’s rescue when they are threatened one night. They learn another lesson in tolerance and understanding by that experience.

The Production. I liked the production. It is efficiently directed by Allen MacInnis, although I would have thought that since the defendants are highlighted as they sit in the side front row of the orchestra, that more reactions might have found their way into the performances of those being accused. For most of the courtroom scenes the defendant and her father sit quite still in spite of evidence that would have made them squirm. When the father does explode in rage it seems to come from nowhere, instead of us seeing it bubbling to the surface.

In the book Scout is about six years old. As Scout, in the play Scout is played by Caroline Toal, an adult. Toal has a sprightly attitude about her, but she doesn’t quite capture that mix of innocence and spunk. Toal plays her a bit older that one might expect.

As Atticus Finch, Jeff Miller is fastidious, courtly, kindly and compassionate to those who are less fortunate. Miller realizes the basic decency and frustration of Atticus in trying to pass that decency on to his neighbours. You can also see Finch’s dilemma in Miller’s performance, in trying to protect his children but also educate them in the hard ways of the world

As Calpurnia, Lisa Berry is proud, harried, loving and feisty. As Tom Robinson, Matthew G. Brown has a quiet grace about him. He knows his position as a black man at that time. We do too. Robinson does lovely work. And as Mayella Ewell, the young woman making the accusation of rape and beating, Jessica Moss is a tortured soul with tons of guilt at what might or might not have happened. I love the story and the heart of it. It’s an important book for all ages to read. The play and the production tell that story.

Comment. Harper Lee’s writing is full of that southern elegance. Christopher Sergel’s dramatization has captured the southern flavour of that small town, but it lacks the richness of Lee’s writing. That said, this production produced by Young People’s Theatre, is obviously geared towards an audience of young people perhaps in their early teens or a bit younger. Certainly the themes from the book are clear in the play—racism; compassion; violence; class consciousness; justice; the law. This is Ms Lee’s only book. She won the Pulitzer Prize for it. Astonishing.

Produced by Young People’s Theatre

Opened: October 9, 2014
Closes: November 2, 2014
Cast: 13; 9 men, 4 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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