April 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
It’s been fifty-six years since Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was published and less than one year since its re-conceived version Go Set a Watchman hit the bestseller lists to a flood of controversy. Much has changed since 1960. Or has it? A quick glance at today’s headlines reveal that bigotry, the murder of unarmed Black men, and racial intolerance continue unchecked both on the streets and in certain presidential campaigns. Given the current political climate and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is particularly timely that we find opportunities to re-examine the role of racism in America. And how better to revisit these issues than with this cautionary tale? To that end LTA’s Producers, Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Robert Kraus, have chosen well to select Frank Pasqualino to direct this well-crafted and impressively cast production.
As you may recall, the story, narrated on stage by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as Scout thirty years later (Melissa Dunlap), is set in a small town in the Deep South, where Jim Crow laws were still firmly set in stone. Black families lived on one side of town and whites, another.
Atticus Finch (Richard Fiske), a liberal lawyer in a town of bigots, nosy parkers and those best described as adherents to the Klan, is a wise and calming presence in an otherwise lightning hot moment in time. His young daughter, Scout (Olivia McMahon), is an outspoken child with a wealth of curiosity about everything, especially the peculiar nature of prejudice and intolerance. Her slightly older brother Jem (Jack Kearney) does his best to keep her innocent queries in check as does their trusted housekeeper, Calpurnia (Brenda Parker), who cares for them with a no-nonsense attitude and a guiding hand.
When their young friend, Dill (Nathaniel Burkhead), comes from Mississippi to live with them their world grows a little larger and their adventures a little bolder. As they roam the town together the children become targets of racist slurs about their father, who is defending a field hand against the rape of a white woman. Atticus urges them to turn the other cheek. “If you want to understand someone, you gotta walk around in their skin,” he cautions them.
The first act explores their small family, the mysterious “Boo” Radley (Derek Bradley), an elusive neighbor who’s been holed up in his house for thirty years, and their relationships to the townspeople of Maycomb, setting the stage for the trial, and attempted railroading, of Tom Robinson (Larry Boggs) that unfolds in Act Two. The townsfolk present a polyglot of opinions on race – those that are educated and liberal, those of the hardworking Black families, and, in sharp contrast, their antagonists who are White, poor, uneducated and bigoted. Bob Ewell (Paul Donahoe), Tom’s accuser, and his daughter Mayella, the presumed victim (Skye Lindberg), fall into the category of the latter.
The trial and its aftermath are the most gripping aspects of this story. It is here in a small, segregated courtroom that the viciousness and brutality of racism is revealed in the cold, harsh light of day.
An excellent cast delivers humor and pathos with brilliance and dignity. Especially outstanding are Olivia McMahon, Brenda Parker, Richard Fiske, Paul Donahoe, Tony Gilbert as Judge Taylor, and Skye Lindberg.
Through May 14th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com