Sorkin’s ‘Mockingbird’ does the story justice – The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — Many years ago, I sat in a college theology class, keeping a watchful eye on the sidelines during a heated debate between two classmates. The subject of the battle was responsibility and truth. The spark of the skirmish escapes me now, but what I do remember is the complete silence that filled the room when one of the two – who at the time was pontificating something about “confusion and the later revelation” – accused the other of behaving “like Scout trapped in the ham. When the aggrieved fighter admitted he had no idea where that reference came from, demanding his accuser “book , chapter and verse,” most of us in the room groaned. As did the professor, who then delivered the oft-heard cliche to the student about to be pilloried: “Kid, yes, there’s the Bible, but another book you have to read before you die is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.'” When the kid admitted he had never read it, we were audibly amazed, until the teacher added it to the curriculum…for the whole class.

I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that most of us are familiar with the events that unfolded during that hot summer of 1934 in Maycomb, Alabama. That we’ve all been introduced to the distinguished Southern lawyer Atticus Finch (here played by a superb Richard Thomas) before; her children, truth-seeking 14-year-old son Jem (a gorgeous Justin Mark) and tomboyish 10-year-old daughter Scout (a shy Melanie Moore). I guess most of us have Scout and Jem’s dear summer friend, the weird, owl Dill (a wonderful Steven Lee Johnson) and the family mother earth, their maid Calpurnia (a Jacqueline Williams clairvoyant and sagacious). Most of us have sat in that hot, sweltering courtroom before seeing Tom Robinson (Yeagel T. Welch) condemned to a horrible fate by an oily Bob Ewell (Joey Collins) and the vicious lies of his tortured daughter Mayella Ewell (Arianna Gayle Stucki) and hating. And I’m sure most of us know why Scout was dressed as a ham.

If none of this sounds familiar to you, you have a book to read, or at least a wonderful production to see.

For those of us who cherish the book and/or movie of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there’s no need to worry, Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of Lee’s classic Southern Gothic novel is just smart, damn smart. Sorkin managed to carefully capture the story’s themes and memorable characters, honing them in his own unique and unmistakable style. Parts of the story that may have become blurry or forgotten have been polished off and displayed with a brilliance that makes us feel like we’re witnessing something new – and that’s no small feat for a story. so well told. There are modern touches for today’s sensibilities that have been added, but they take nothing away from this classic, only gilding it with a glow that makes history shine and vibrate. For example, the play begins with the trial. The tension of the story is still there, just slanted a little differently, and maybe better. Additionally, the maid Calpurnia is now more of a character, still warm, wise and wary, but now shares her feelings clearly and with less filter – allowing her to become a complete nurturing presence and challenge to Atticus – becoming less of a device. . Sorkin explores Dill’s world a bit more, giving us some more clues as to why he is the way he is…and why he can be so boring. Additionally, in a bold move, Sorkin scripted the characters of Jem, Scout, and Dill to be played by adults. It doesn’t distract in the least and enhances the richness of the tale. Praises go to the three actors, Moore, Mark and Johnson, who skillfully allow this illusion to captivate.

Harper Lee framed Atticus Finch as a man of uncompromising morals. Here Sorkin explores the character’s fears and uncertainties a bit more and Thomas nuances the character with a remarkably accessible and real humanity – making the pedestal we placed Atticus on a little shorter. Thomas’ Atticus resonates viscerally, unlike those that have gone before. It’s extraordinary.

Bartlett Sher’s directing is crisp and sharp, allowing for the memory rush we wanted and wonderfully illuminating things we may have forgotten or misremembered. The only downside to the production is its design which is a mixed bag, with Jennifer Tipton’s clever lighting being the most successful element. But if that’s my only complaint, it’s a small one. The silence from the audience during the courtroom scenes was noticeable — not a beep, a cough, or a cellphone. Everyone was delighted, and remained so, until they jumped to their feet at the last curtain, as they should.

This guard is telling you to leave. I’m putting it on your acting class schedule. No apologies, but no book report.

WHERE: Proctors Theatre, Schenectady
WHEN: Until June 19
HOW MANY: $20 to $100.50
MORE INFORMATION: 518-346-6204 or www.proctors.org

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Categories: Entertainment, Schenectady

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