Theater Review: A great American story well told
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | September 01,2013
Photo by Tim Fort
The courtroom scene is enacted in the Weston Playhouse production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” presented through Sept. 11.
It’s truly a classic when the story of a 1935 incident that was made into an iconic 1962 film remains as powerful — deeply touching consciences and hearts — as it did was when it was written in 1960.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s story of growing up in the American South, continues to deeply move virtually all who come in contact with it, whether it be the original novel, the film starring Gregory Peck or on stage.
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company on Friday opened a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” that delivered all that power — the humor, the tenderness, the tragedy and the hope.
As told by the adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, she and brother Jem discovered one summer just the man their father was. As a single father nearing 50, and a lawyer, Atticus wasn’t much fun, and consequently not a father to admire.
When Atticus is called upon to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, the children first see a side of their neighbors that they had never imagined. Though harboring no prejudice of their own, these youngsters cannot understand why their father would risk his reputation over an unimportant field hand. But they are soon to find out.
Told simply, through the eyes of Scout, this beautiful story unfolds with vignettes of life in a rural town exposing the worst and best of human nature. And Weston Playhouse, using Christopher Sergel’s second adaptation, brings that story and its characters home. (Unlike the first, Sergel’s second version employs the adult Jean Louise as narrator).
Directed by Malcolm Ewen, one of Weston’s three longtime producing artistic directors, the production enjoys a particularly fine cast. James Lloyd Reynolds gave Atticus the quiet moral authority that makes this character both admirable and emotionally affecting. Elizabeth, as the adult Jean Louise Finch, was gracious and inviting as the narrator.
Still, this story is really about children, and the production benefited for three fine locals.
Kelsey McCullough, 12, of Rutland, a participant in Rutland Youth Theatre, was a brash, feisty and believable Scout. Andrew Foster and Isaac Freitas-Eagnan, both members of Brattleboro’s New England Youth Theatre, were convincing and impressive as Jem and friend Dill, respectively.
There wasn’t a single character that wasn’t well cast and effective. More importantly, the ensemble was nearly seamless and seemed totally natural.
Stephen Lee Anderson was particularly menacing as Bob Ewell, while Theresa Kloos effectively conveyed daughter Mayella’s fear and being overwhelmed on the witness stand.
Also very effective and touching was Christopher Donahue’s portrayal of Atticus’ poor client, Walter Cunningham, who is called to task by Scout for his part in a lynching party. Donahue did double duty as a quietly dignified Boo Radley.
Weston veteran Barbara Lloyd was delicious as the antagonistic Mrs. Dubose, while Susan Haefner, another veteran, represented sanity as Maudie Atkinson. Thursday Farrar was the Finch’s exasperated housekeeper, Calpurnia.
There were moments Friday night where the timing felt a bit clumsy, such as the final fight scene, but they were almost unnoticeable and should be cleared up by the time anybody reads this.
The quasi-realistic but evocative set was by Blair Mielnik, with authentic-looking costumes by Barbara Bell and dramatic lighting by Ann Wrightson. The subtle and effective sound design and original music was by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen.
Weston Playhouse’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is simple and beautiful storytelling — and what a story!
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, Aug. 29-Sept. 11 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St. (off Route 100) in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $52-$39; call 824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.