To Kill a Mockingbird; ABT's Spring Season Chugs On
|Father and daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
|Spoiler alert: justice will not be served, photo @ Julia Cervantes|
It is true that Atticus is a more complex figure in the play, but that's not because his character is changed. He's still the "most decent person in Maycomb" who insists on being polite to everyone even if those people are bigoted, hateful, ignorant, and violent. It's that in 2019 these entreaties come across as naive at best and patronizing at worst. After a bigoted old woman says vile things to Jem and Scout, Jem retalitates by ruining her camelias. Atticus makes Jem go back to apologize to Mrs. Dubose (a wonderful Phyllis Somerville). But is this even the "right" thing to do?
Sorkin's play benefits from strong direction from Bartlett Sher. Sher's attempts to make classic musicals "woke" have mixed results. But in this case, his social justice warrior tendencies are entirely appropriate and he elicits strong performances from a very talented ensemble of actors. Jeff Daniels is very different from Gregory Peck in the movie. Daniels is more mercurial, less self-assured. It's an equally valid portrayal.
Everyone is talking about Jeff Daniels' dignified portrayal of Atticus Finch, but to me the strongest performance came from Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout. Having adults play children is always tricky but Bolger seamlessly transitioned between the adult memory play voice and the child's voice, and what's more, so convincingly conveyed the body language of a child that when she curled up in Calpurnia or Atticus's lap it didn't even require a suspension of disbelief. Keenan-Bolger's performance was so strong that the other children (Will Pullen as Jem, Gideon Glick as Dill) suffered by comparison. Glick in particular seemed to be doing a bizarre Truman Capote impersonation that bordered on the offensive ("Dill" was based on Truman Capote).
|Stark Sands, Frederick Weller, and Erin Wilhelmi, photo @ Julia Cervantes|
I had a few quibbles with the play. One is that (as in the novel and film) the circumstances surrounding Tom Robinson's death are not questioned by anyone, not even Calpurnia who in Sorkin's adaptation has much more agency and advocates for her own community in Jim Crow era Alabama. The other is that Bob Ewell's character has been beefed up and not to the good. In Sorkin's version he's not just a abusive drunk with a probably incestuous relationship with his daughter, but a rather shrill white supremacist who spits out sentences like "In Africa, they don't build houses," and threatens Atticus with "one tree, two ropes." It's too heavy-handed. Frederick Weller also doesn't have the menace to really make Bob Ewell frightening. My last quibble is that the story of Boo Radley is somewhat marginalized so the emotional payout from his appearance at the end of the play doesn't have nearly the same emotional impact.
But really, these are just quibbles. Overall Sorkin and Sher have created a thought-provoking, moving night of theater that is so timely that as I left the theater I overheard many audience members having deep, serious conversations about the issues presented in the play. To Kill a Mockingbird is that rare Broadway sensation that lives up to the hype.
here. The other was Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre, which was absolutely dreadful. If Sorkin's To Kill a Mockingbird serves as an example of how to adapt a beloved novel into a different medium, Marston's Jane Eyre is Exhibit A of what not to do. Full review here:
It is Marston's severely limited ballet vocabulary that kills this ballet. Marston's choreography is heavily influenced by Kenneth MacMillan in that all depictions of male-female relationships are limited to acrobatic lifts, women being dragged around on the floor, contorted torsos and flailing limbs.