Stellar performances lift 'Mockingbird'Passion on stage is great. Passion fueled by sincerity can be spellbinding.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Passion on stage is great. Passion fueled by sincerity can be spellbinding.
The opening night audience at “To Kill a Mockingbird” Thursday sat mesmerized as attorney Atticus Finch strove to accomplish two seemingly impossible tasks: protect his family and defend an innocent black man at a time when even the courts could not guarantee justice.
The play, based on Harper Lee’s novel, will be staged by Phoenix Theatre actors again tonight and Sunday afternoon at the Sheldon Theatre.
Jeff Chalmers is an accomplished performer, but he brings more to the iconic role of Atticus Finch than just acting experience.
He is a caring father, deeply concerned about the upbringing of his children; and he is a highly principled man, determined to do what he knows is right even when it seems that his friends and neighbors all believe he is wrong.
And despite all that transpires, he manages to retain his belief in truth and justice.
A solid cast joins Chalmers on stage, starting with the young actors playing his children.
Foster Johnson is his son Jem; on Thursday and again tonight, Macallister Hughes appears as his daughter Jean Louise, known as Scout, and Jayden Jech is their young friend, Dill. (On Friday and Sunday Maddie Groh is Scout and Rhett Waller plays Dill.)
All demonstrate a solid grasp of their roles — Scout the inquisitive tomboy, Jem the young boy growing up fast, Dill the little kid looking for someone or something to believe in.
The Finch’s neighbors provide some of the back story and add touches of humor while helping the audience understand what is happening in the larger community.
Elizabeth Ungar is particularly impressive as Maudie Atkinson, whose narration advances the story. Helene Olson-Reed plays Stephanie Crawford, a typical Southern woman of the era; Sherry Allen is the bitter Mrs. Dubose, a woman fighting her own battle.
Like other members of the large cast, they speak in the voice of the South — not necessarily with strong accents, but by adopting the soft tone associated with that time and place.
Solid, effective performances also are given by Joshua Carlson as Tom Robinson, who is wrongly charged with raping a white girl; and by Tim Bowes and Haley Gibbons as the accuser, Bob Ewell, and his daughter Mayella, the alleged victim.
Carlson easily captures the persona of an innocent man who has a pretty good idea what his fate will be. Bowes is a vicious, shifty-eyed person and a racist; Gibbons is alternately fearful and hateful.
Also deserving mention are Elizabeth Leaf as Calpurnia, who cares for the independent Finch children; John Anderson as Sheriff Heck Tate; and Jerry Lacroix as gruff Judge Taylor, and others — there are no weak performances.
The set by Jerry Lacroix and costumes by Sara Shannon are effective and appropriate. The one major scene change is challenging, but necessary.
Director Julie Martin uses some very effective techniques to draw people into what is already a compelling story, such as having actors use the aisles to enter or exit the stage.
Most significantly, when Finch tells the jury “It’s as simple as black and white,” he speaks directly to the audience — and on Thursday night the crowd sat motionless, eyes and ears tuned to every word.
In her director’s notes in the theater program, Martin explains a little of why “To Kill a Mockingbird” holds special meaning to her. It’s up to those who attend to decide what it means to each of us in today’s world.
Final performances of “To Kill a Mockingbird” are at 7 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sheldon. Call 651-388-8700 for tickets.