To Kill A Mockingbird new iteration

Richard Thomas

To Kill A MockingbirdMy wife, daughter, and I went to see To Kill A Mockingbird at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY, on June 19. It is a new version of the play based on Harper Lee’s 1960 novel. The playwright this time is Aaron Sorkin, who I know as the writer of the movies Being The RicardosThe Trial of the Chicago Seven, Moneyball, and Charlie Wilson’s War. Also, the television shows The West Wing and, one of my favorites, Sports Night.

The show opened on Broadway on December 13, 2018, closing on January 16, 2022, after 626 performances. It starred Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch. He was replaced by Ed Harris from November 2019 to March 11, 2020, when the show was shuttered for a year and a half. Daniels reprised the role in the last quarter of 2021 and Greg Kinnear for the last two weeks of the run.

It’s interesting to see what Sorkin kept and what he changed. It’s still Alabama in the mid-1930s. A Black man named Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch) is on trial for a crime against a white female, for which he was totally innocent. Naturally, he would be judged by an all-white jury.

The main characters are still the defense attorney Atticus (Richard Thomas, yes of The Waltons and the 2018 play The Humans), and his children, Jim (Justin Mark) and Scout (Melanie Moore). But it mixes up the chronology from what we know from the previous version of the play, and the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck. The trial is introduced almost immediately, then returned to periodically.


One of the surprising elements is that, sometimes, it is very funny. This is particularly true of the dialogue between Atticus’ kids and their new friend Dill (Steven Lee Johnson). And yet the pain of the situation is not diminished.

Meanwhile, the Finch black housekeeper and surrogate mother Calpurnia (Jacquline Williams) has far more to say in this version, some funny, some pointed. While this Atticus is still quite the virtuous man in the Peck tradition, he’s not the perfect person as he is often portrayed. He is a bit naïve with his sense of fairness and doesn’t get how Tom Robinson and Calpurnia regularly have to deal with bigotry.

One bit of stunt casting was in the person of the unpleasant Mrs. Henry Dubose. She is played by Mary Badham, who was Oscar-nominated for playing Scout in the 1961 film.

The set changes, from the Finch house to the courthouse, for instance, are very efficiently designed.

I should note that my wife and daughter were somewhat distracted by the fact that the teenagers are played by actors who are clearly adults. Having watched many television shows with actors over 25 playing teens, this didn’t bother me. BTW, Melanie Moore (Scout) is 30, but IDK the age of the “boys.”

I saw several friends at the show. Moreover, others I know well had indicated that they had attended a previous performance.

The touring company started in Buffalo on March 27, 2022. It is scheduled to traverse the country until July 2, 2023, reaching at least half of the states. The show is highly recommended.

Flinching from the “new” Atticus Finch

I found myself watching the movie To Kill a Mockingbird in the context of the release of the new book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman.

AtticusFinchThe family went to the Madison Theatre in Albany last Wednesday night to see the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I had never watched it before at a cinema, only on TV. The Wife had viewed only bits of it, and The Daughter had not seen it at all. It is a fine film, of course, and I need not review it here.

The great music of Elmer Bernstein made The Daughter nervous, especially around the storyline of Boo Radley. And she was confused by the scene in the woods near the end as to what really happened, given the subsequent dialogue.

While I appreciate the timeliness of the showing, I should note that the experience was lessened somewhat by a large amount of sound “bleed” from the adjoining theater. In fact, it got SO loud that I could almost not hear the film I was watching. What the heck was playing over there, anyway? It turned out to be the earthquake disaster film, San Andreas.

I found myself watching Mockingbird in the context of the release of the new book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. This novel has been mired in controversy. First, the argument was that the author was “increasingly blind and deaf,” and that the book’s release was somehow contrary to her real wishes.

More importantly, the new tome redefines Atticus Finch, the practically saintly protagonist of Mockingbird, so well played by Gregory Peck in the movie, and is so popular that children have been increasingly named after him. Watchmen suggests that Atticus, was, in his later years, a racist on the wrong side of history.

Some folks, like my buddy Chuck Miller, have chosen to ignore Watchman, considering it not part of the canon. I used to read comic books, so I recognize that writers are often mucking up beloved characters in ways we do not recognize. We often pick and choose what we will choose to accept. (Hey, kind of like the Bible!)

As someone who participated in a marathon of To Kill a Mockingbird reading a few years back, I’m excited to read Go Set a Watchman, even if it’s less compelling than its predecessor. Because, as NPR put it: Harper Lee’s ‘Watchman’ Is A Mess That Makes Us Reconsider A Masterpiece.

The screenplay for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird was written by the late Horton Foote. His third cousin, the late writer Shelby Foote, was an apologist for the Confederate flag. I have a feeling that the “new” Atticus is more complicated than we want to accept.

New Dr. Seuss v. new Harper Lee

Many of my friends expressed great anticipation at finally reading new words from Harper Lee.

JEOPARDY! episode #7008, aired 2015-02-18. Category: SEUSSIAN KEYWORDS

“Oom-pahs and boom-pahs” help this title elephant save folks from “Beezle-Nut oil”

“A ten-foot beard” & “a sleigh and an elephant” are said to be on this street

Sylvester McMonkey McBean dealt with “Star-Belly” & “Plain-Belly” these, who hung out “on the beaches”

“Flupp Flupp Flupp” & “the Father of the Father of Nadd” are found within his “500 Hats”

“Truffula Fruits”, “bar-ba-loot suits” & “Humming-Fish” are in the world of this title fella

Answers at the end.
I was delighted to discover that there were more Dr. Seuss stories, released in 2014, that had never been published in book form before.

The challenge of figuring out what was true about the children’s author drove [Northampton, MA dentist Charles] Cohen to spend more than 25,000 hours studying the life and work of Ted Geisel.

Over the course of his research, he kept seeing references to Dr. Seuss stories that he’d never heard and at first thought were just more misinformation. A trip to the magazine archives of the Boston Public Library proved otherwise.

There, in Redbook issues from the 1940s and 1950s, Cohen discovered approximately 30 Dr. Seuss stories that had never made it into books.

The illustrations, though tiny, were unmistakably Seussian, as were the themes, settings, characters, morals, rhythm and rhyme of the stories.

My affection for Seuss – whose name is often misspelled as Suess, even in the URL of the Newsweek story above – comes in large part because his characters were often taking on pompous authority figures. The king in Yertle the Turtle, a book I’d only first read in the last decade, literally takes a fall from his throne of oppression. My all-time favorite Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, shows the lad chastising the king for his foolishness.

Yes, these “new” stories were published, but lost, until fairly recently.

In July 2015, a recently discovered manuscript with illustrations called “What Pet Should I Get” will be released. Random House “plans at least two more books, based on materials found in 2013 in the author’s home in La Jolla, California, by his widow and secretary.” Good news.

I was also pleased by the announcement that the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird was going to be published, over half a century after the original. Many of my friends expressed great anticipation at finally reading “new” words from Harper Lee.

Then the backlash came. Don’t Publish Harper Lee’s New Novel, HarperCollins. The argument is that the author is “increasingly blind and deaf.” Importantly, “Lee’s protective older sister Alice died last year at the age of 103. And now, 60 years after stashing it in a box and stowing it away, the notoriously shy author decides to send an apparently unedited novel into the world?” Moreover, many of her neighbors are quoted as saying that they “believe her wishes for her career are not being respected.”

I’m feeling quite ambivalent about this. If Go Set a Watchman had come out posthumously, as some of the Seuss material is, would that have been a better outcome for Ms. Lee and/or her fans?

Not incidentally, today would have been Dr. Seuss’ 111th birthday.
I took one of those online quiz things, Which Dr. Seuss Character Are You?

Kind, curious, sweet, and small
You are easily the cutest of them all!

With eyes full of wonder
And dreams ne’r too big
Your heart lives to love
and your hands itch to dig

You care deeply for others
And take them as your own
Your heart is enormous
This you have surely shown

Our official results
peg you and Cindy Lou
As one and the same
Tis nothing but true!

This is SO wrong…
Oh, the Places You’ll Go

JEOPARDY! responses: Horton; Mulberry Street; the Sneetches; Bartholomew (Cubbins); the Lorax.

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