Low-flying revival

To Kill a Mockingbird

Adapted by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Stephanie Barton-Farcas
Sargent Theatre at American Theater of Actors
Equity Showcase (closes April 21)
314 W. 54th St. (866-468-7619)
Review by Elias Stimac

Harper Lee wrote a compelling novel about racial prejudice and courtroom suspense over 40 years ago, and the repercussions of To Kill a Mockingbird still resonate today.  Horton Foote turned it into a beloved feature film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck (both won Oscars for their efforts). Playwright Christopher Sergel adapted the story for the stage. This latest revival offers mixed results. Stephanie Barton-Farcas displayed a valiant attempt to make this version work, but some of her directorial choices ended up costing the production its credibility.

The impending trial of a young black man (Damian Bailey) accused of attacking a white girl (Julie Campbell) has the residents of a small town in Alabama in an uproar. No one is more intrigued by the proceedings than Scout (Natily Blair) and Jem (Gregg Mozgala), the young children of the man’s attorney, Atticus Finch (Norm Golden). The tale dramatizes the effects of violence and bigotry through the eyes of innocent youth, making it a timeless study of man’s inhumanity to man.

Barton-Farcas opted to use a multiracial cast for the show, a noble gesture but one that distorted the reality of how different races were treated back in the early 1930s. If the plot wasn’t so racially motivated, this concept might have been more successful, and heartily applauded.

Another unfortunate choice was casting young adults in the children’s roles. In the novel, Scout ages from five to nine years old, and Jem is six years older than her. There are plenty of talented child actors around, so to have older people awkwardly trying to capture the wide-eyed wonder of these integral characters didn’t give more age-appropriate actors a chance to shine. Thankfully, the performers managed admirably in their youthful characterizations. Blair was bright and strong-willed as Scout, Mozgala was daring and endearing as Jem, and Omar Reyes portrayed their inquisitive friend Dill.

The third missed opportunity in this production was the fact that the role of narrator was taken away from Scout and given to a neighbor, Miss Maudie (Ellen Rae Huang). The actress handled the storytelling chores with spirit and commitment. But to deprive the viewers of watching Scout (or an older version of the character, as the novel indicates) tell the story in her own words takes much of the emotion out of the narration.

The final miscue was the set, designed by James Bedell, which placed the Finch family house downstage left, leaving little space for entrances and exits. Meanwhile, the house of Boo Radley (a character alluded to but rarely seen) enjoyed a prime position center stage.

In addition to the fine performances of Golden and the above-mentioned cast members, the ensemble also included Jaylin Marshall, Tony vonHalle, David Marantz, Mary Holmstrom, Adrian Thompkins, Jim Williams, Daniel Rappaport, Szu Ting Moy, and Nicole Stewart. Steven Wolf designed the suitable lighting, Radu Bass provided sound, and Damon Law composed the evocative score.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 1

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