THEATER | "To Kill a Mockingbird": Park Square Theatre preaches the gospel of civil rights

Photo courtesy Park Square Theatre

I reread To Kill a Mockingbird last year, 50 years after its publication in 1960. When I heard that Park Square Theatre was staging this production, I knew I wanted to see it brought to life on the stage. This enduring story clearly reminds us all that the struggle for equality has taken a great toll on many who have fought for it and those who have been the victims of discrimination.

To Kill A Mockingbird takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. It tells the story of Atticus Finch and his children, Jem and Scout. Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking a white woman. While Atticus knows from the beginning he is facing an impossible task, his children learn this the hard way by watching townspeople turn on their father and then watching the trial and resulting conviction of Robinson. The story continues with the young woman's father seeking revenge on Atticus by attacking his children. Boo Radley, a recluse in his home in their neighborhood, finally makes his appearance to save the children. Scout then comes to realize that Radley is not someone to fear or taunt, but that he is "real nice." Atticus reminds her that most people are when you finally get to know them.

to kill a mockingbird, presented through april 17 at park square theatre. for tickets and information, see parksquaretheatre.org.

The title of this story is explained by Atticus reminding the children that they should never shoot a mockingbird. He explains that mockingbirds do not harm anyone and spend all of their time singing and making us happy. By the end of this story Scout has learned that this same thing can be said of people that we know. The book To Kill a Mockingbird has been credited with stoking the fires of the Civil Rights Movement and was honored as the best novel of the 20th century in a Library Journal poll taken in 1999.

I really enjoyed Park Square Theater's production. The staging was simple but effective. Four large screens were used to give us a feel for a neighborhood and to create the walls that either distance the characters or bring them together. The stage is converted to a courtroom by bringing in a two-story balcony that holds the seating for the "colored folks"; it's also where Jem and Scout and their friend Dill sneak in to watch the trial. This adaptation is narrated by the character of Scout as a young woman (Heather Stone). She regularly appears to set the stage for coming scenes and to put us into the head of the young Scout (Elizabeth McCormick) as the story unfolds. This addition will certainly help the nearly 9,000 junior high students who will be seeing this show during 27 school matinees.

While it's hard to get past Gregory Peck's career-defining performance as Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Fred Wagner does an admirable job of portraying Finch as a man struggling to raise his two children to know what is right while living in a town filled with prejudice and unjustice. Peggy O'Connell gives a strong performance as Maudie Atkinson, the neighbor who helped the children deal with the cruelties of the world. Robert Gardner skillfully portrays Judge Taylor as a man sympathetic to the truth but understanding of the realities of the times they are facing. Heather Stone as the young Scout carries an important role with skill and maturity.

A chorus of gospel singers are a nice addition to the production. As the intermission is ending they greet the gathering audience with song. At the end of the show they join the entire cast in a moving song reminding us that those who are without sin should be the first to cast a stone at a sinner. I felt that this coming together of cast and audience brought us all back to 2011 and left us with a reminder that none of us are above prejudice if we don't remember each day the value of all people.

408 St. Peter St.
Saint Paul, MN 55102
651-767-8480

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    Jean Gabler's picture
    Jean Gabler

    Jean Gabler (jmgabler [at] stthomas [dot] edu) is the assistant director for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas. She lives in Merriam Park.

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    Thanks for the review, Jean.

    Thanks for the review, Jean. I just wanted to point out that the role of the adult Scout is played by Heather Stone, and the young Scout is played by Elizabeth McCormick.

    Fixed!

    Thanks for the correction, David. I've edited the review accordingly.

    - Jay Gabler, arts editor