Left: Olivia Lowe as Scout. Right: Dan Hiatt as Atticus Finch giving sage advise to Olivia Lowe as Scout

TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD dramatized by Christopher Sergel, based on the novel by Harper Lee directed by Michael Butler . Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA. 925.943.7469 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 925.943.7469 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

April 1- April 30, 2011


Last evening the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle (SFBACC) honored Center Rep for the 2010 production of She Love Me. They will surely get a nomination for their stark, true to the novel adaptation of To Kill A Mocking Bird that held the audience spellbound on opening night. Michael Butler, known for his broad directorial stints, demonstrates his versatility fashioning an extremely well paced production giving depth to Harper Lee’s coming of age story of youngsters in 1935 racist Maycomb, Alabama. It earns a rating of ****1/2 out of 5 stars.

It was 50 years ago, that Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize novel was published and the injustice to Southern blacks imbedded in the written word are brought achingly to life on the Center Rep stage. In 1965 Christopher Sergel, owner of Dramatic Publishing Company, obtained permission from Lee to do an adaptation that first opened in England in 1970. Since then the play has been widely produced with a yearly staging in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Center Reps’ production boasts a top-notch cast with the amazing Dan Hiatt in the lead role of Atticus Finch.

The youngsters are tomboy Scout Finch (Olivia Lowe), her brother Jem (Danny Christensen) and visiting distant neighbor boy Dill (Hunter Milano). In the book, the story is told through the words of Scout and expanded through the eyes of brother Jem and Dill. In this version, the narrator is Scout as an adult (Suzanne Irving) who weaves in and out of the action unobtrusively mingling with and at times taking part in the story. It is a stirring denunciation of Southern racial injustice in the 1930s. Tom Robinson (Joseph Ingram) a black man is falsely accused of raping a white girl named Mayella Ewell (Lina Makdisi). The white privileged townsfolk of Maycomb, Alabama feared “a nightmare was upon them” as anti-black fervor became rampant. When Atticus is asked and accepts to defend Tom, he and his children are treated as pariahs.

The secondary story involves the children’s fascination with the mysterious withdrawn neighbor Boo Radley (Henry Perkins). At the trial Mayella and her uneducated and violent father Bob Ewell (James Hiser) perjure themselves only to be discredited by Atticus but the all male jury finds Tom guilty. Vengeful Bob Ewell, in a drunken rage attacks Scout and Jem on Halloween night and is killed by the gentle reclusive Boo.

Dan Hiatt gives a solid performance placing a distinctive stamp on the role. In the version that Butler has elected to use, Suzanne Irving as the narrator moves gracefully in and out of the limelight adding depth to the story line without intruding on actors moving about her. Olivia Lowe as Scout has a ring of truth and Danny Christensen as Jem almost matches her ability. However, among the children, it is the little scene stealer Hunter Milano who received the most applause at the curtain call. If this were a movie Lina Makdisi as Mayella would earn an Oscar for her truly brilliant short time in the witness box. James Hiser as Bob Ewell exudes venom and is someone you would not want to meet in an ally on a dark night. Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia played with dignity by Allison L. Payne speaks the line that gives the title to the book. “Mockingbirds don’t eat anyone’s garden, nor do they do any other harm and that to kill one would be an outright sin.”

Melpomene Katakalos’s minimalist set of raked wooden planks stretching from the apron to curve gently on the rear stage is ingenious and allows the free movement of wooden railings and folding chairs into various positions signifying changes in venue.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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