My 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 Ricardos, The 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.