Harper Lee's widely beloved, Pulitzer prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel and is part of the 2012 summer season at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. USF's production, directed by Edward Morgan, is a skillful and touching portrayal of the American South of the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, a child just discovering painful and complicated issues of prejudice, injustice and inequality.
To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite novel, not just because of its dramatic story but because of Harper Lee's stunning prose. The stage version preserves much of the prose, especially through the voice of the older Jean Louise (Monica Bell), who serves as a narrator and remains onstage throughout as an invisible observer. The play is dialogue-heavy, and the narration might be intrusive or awkward for some people, but it worked for me as a fan of the novel.
The child actors, playing Scout (Jinger Axelson), her older brother Jem (Nick Denhalter) and mischievous visitor Dill (Bailey Duncan) do a fine job with the demanding material. One of the play's most gripping moments is the scene in which the innocent Scout turns away an angry mob threatening Tom Robinson (Colby Lewis) a black man accused of raping a white woman. Another highlight is the summation at the end of the wrongly accused man's trial, a riveting monologue in which defense attorney Atticus Finch, Scout's father (Martin Kildare), explains the injustice of the social codes he knows will probably condemn an innocent man. Kildare captured the essence of Atticus Finch, a quiet, restrained man with a keen sense of justice and a steel in his heart that allows him to do what others cannot.
USF's production combines a dramatic story, well-written script, skillful acting and elegant visual design to create an emotionally rich theater experience that visibly moved members of the audience. The play has its lighter moments as well, many provided by the quirky Dill, whose childish bravado sets much of the plot in motion.
Fans of the novel, or the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, will be thrilled with USF's production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Even if you are not familiar with the novel, the play presents a timeless, relevant, touching and thought-provoking story. If you have plans to visit the Utah Shakespeare Festival, add this play to your list as a must see.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Randall L. Jones Theatre and Adams Shakespearean Theatre in Cedar City, Utah
June 2-Sept. 16, 2012
435-586-7878 or 1-800-PLAYTIX
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