Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre Company presents Christopher Sergel’s dramatization of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. This is interesting, because Guthrie in 1935 may have been much like the fictional Alabama town where Lee set her classic tale.
Who hasn’t read the Pulitzer Prizewinning book or seen its 1962 movie version? When a theater company opts to present such a well-known story, the director must find a way to make the show fresh.
W. Jerome Stevenson has staged an engaging, satisfying production, and some scenes are downright moving.
James A. Hughes gives a measured performance as Atticus Finch, a small-town lawyer whose clients pay with turnip greens or chopped firewood in the depths of the Depression.
(Why Hughes wears pasty makeup that makes him paler than his cream-colored suit is a mystery.)
He must defend Tom Robinson (the pleasing Rory Littleton, new to me), a black man who’s accused of assaulting a young white woman. Of course, Atticus has no chance of winning the case, but he makes a compelling closing argument that the only place where all men — black and white, rich and poor — are created equal is in a court of law.
But not in 1935 Alabama. Emily Frances Brown plays the alleged victim, while David Fletcher- Hall portrays her father. Both are terrific as backwoods rubes who could be straight out of Deliverance. Fletcher- Hall plays the role so creepily, he’s almost comic relief. But that job falls mainly to the reliable Cory King as the nosy neighbor who’s both a meddler and a moralist.
Some of the actors say their lines so quickly that with the Alabamy, mush-mouthed brogue, the dialogue becomes incomprehensible. Stevenson isn’t able to put the brakes on them, but one does appreciate his bringing the show in at a brisk 125 minutes, including intermission.
Gwendolyn Evans narrates the play as Atticus’ daughter, Jean Louise Finch, while Alexandria Grable plays the character’s younger incarnation, known as Scout. The other child actors are Matt Maloy and Harry Simpson; all are fine.
Michael James’ evocative scenic design and Michael Long’s lighting are highly effective, making for quick scene changes between the Finch front yard, a courtroom and other locations. This is a sharp-looking production, in a rustic way.
In several scenes, Stevenson employs recorded music — always annoying and superfluous. Reasonable people might question the appropriateness of incidental music with this play, but one can imagine how effective it could be performed live on just guitar and fiddle.
At the end, we see Atticus and Scout in earnest conversation on their porch swing. He’s probably telling her the moral of the story. It’s hard to say, however, because they’re drowned out by the sound of weeping violins.