Disclaimer: I received two tickets for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for the purpose of this review. All the opinions are my own.
On Tuesday evening, the Straz Center invited me to the opening night of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, a play based on the 1960 literary classic of the same name by Harper Lee. Although it has been many *eh hem* years since I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I had read a few reviews mentioning the revisions Aaron Sorkin made for the stage adaptation.
Recently, the classic novel has been receiving a lot of attention for being listed on some school districts’ banned book list for the novel’s themes, including oppression, social injustice and rape. It is a powerful and moving story about the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the face of adversity.
In Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the themes remain, which are still relevant 63 years later. While the themes of the novel remain, Sorkin makes some obvious strays from the novel with his stage adaptation by focusing more on the trial rather than on the character of Scout.
Given Sorkin’s love of law and order dramas, the play opens inside a courtroom, where we meet Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas), the lawyer appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch), a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Arianna Gayle Stucki).
The trial exposes the racism and prejudice that exists in Maycomb (a fictional town in Alabama), and Atticus’s defense of Tom puts him at odds with many of the townspeople and with his own virtuous view of the world and beliefs.
For the courtroom drama types, Sorkin creates suspenseful courtroom scenes not evident in the film or novel while also developing interesting subplots. Sorkin also develops and fills out the more flat characters, such as Calpurnia the housekeeper (Jacqueline Williams), who shines like a beacon exposing the flaws in Atticus’s adopted beliefs and guiding him to a new way of thinking.
Another notable change in Sorkin’s adaptation is how he attempts to chisel away the white savior trope of Atticus Finch and gives Atticus a more protagonist character arc. Richard Thomas (most notably known for John Boy of The Waltons) beautifully demonstrates the complexity of Atticus’ arc.
Scout (Melanie Moore) still plays a crucial role in the stage adaptation. Like TV pundits covering a modern court TV case, Scout, Jem (Justin Mark) and their summer friend, Dill Harris (Steven Lee Johnson), narrate the courtroom scene as the audience becomes spectators in a gallery awaiting a verdict from the jury.
Sorkin cleverly crafts Scout, Jem and Dill to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience and the use of this technique creates a more engaging experience for the audience. As the line between the stage and the audience blurs, the audience becomes more drawn into each scene making the play more intimate and impactful. Being so connected with the characters and the story leads the audience to make collective gasps throughout the show.
The play also features Sorkin’s signature fast-paced dialogue, which keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, especially how each scene unfolds. As the play progresses through the scenes, each cast member assists in changing scenes effortlessly like turning a page in a book. I found the process mesmerizing – watching cast members deliver lines while moving furniture, collapsing, rolling and rotating the sets.
Sorkin’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD brings to life a classic tale in a contemporary way necessary in a world where social injustice, racism and oppression still exists.
For fans of the classic novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a must-see. For West Wing and A Few Good Men Aaron Sorkin fans, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a must-see.
“All Rise,” Scout Finch.