BWW Reviews: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in Bridgeport - Do the Right Thing
Few popular novels have been as powerful about a subject as Harper Lee's 1960 novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. As a film with an A-list star and as a play that is produced from time to time (but not nearly as often as it should be, in this critic's opinion), it's always a solid hit. Thankfully, the creative team at the Bridgeport Theatre Company did not depend on this.
Director Eli Newsom took a great story and elevated it with a flawless cast, exceptional set design and technical direction by Kevin Pelkey, lighting design by Phill Hill, projections by Damon Testani and spot-on costumes by Christy McIntosh-Newsom. The story he tells is timed correctly and is timeless. Think of chronic profiling and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Think of how none of the WASPs of Wall Street have been tried, but Stephen Cohen (no relation to this critic) and the Wolf of Wall Street, who are Jewish, and Raj Rajaratnam, who is Asian, got into legal trouble. (Just sayin'.)
Where does one begin talking about the cast? Even Cynthia Sepe, the voice of Mrs. Dubose, an elderly cantankerous character not seen on stage, is still strong in my mind. I keep envisioning her courage and insistence on keeping standards. Sampson Denny was strong as the Reverend Sykes. Qesar Vliu gave dignity to Nathan Radley and his mysterious brother, Boo. Andrea Garmun and Lauren Linn were ideally cast as the neighbors, the kind, open-minded citizen Maudie Atkinson and the Maycomb gossip Stephanie Crawford, respectively. Roger Dykeman and Lynnette Victoria were chilling as the bigoted Bob Ewell and his daughter, Mayelle, who accused an innocent man of rape and assault. Everton Ricketts was amazing as Tom Robinson, the accused, and Ryan Elle was heartbreaking as his wife, Helen. Jack Levis was just right as Walter Cunningham, the poor man would could pay off his debt with produce and chores, but was ready to lynch the accused. As if Pelkey's set design skills weren't enough, he was credible as Sheriff Heck Tate, who had to walk a tightrope between the law he upholds and the threat of a mob. John Atkin was proper as Judge Taylor. Stephen DiRocco gave his character, the prosecuting attorney, just the right amount of mediocrity one would expect of anyone who would represent Ewell, the only man in Maycomb who was fired from his WPA job for being lazy.
Will Jeffries was every bit as distinguished as Atticus Finch, the character who inspired many people to go into law. Jeffries also gave Atticus, a larger-than-life figure in the eyes of so many, a touching humanity as the widower whose work was cut out for him as a father and as a voice of conscience. Tondrea Mabins was simply wonderful as Calpurnia, the woman who took care of the Finch children and household. Kitty Robertson was perfect as Jean Louise Finch, the adult version of Scout. She commanded the stage even when she on the sidelines. Clare Regan played Scout, Tyler Felson played her older brother, Jem, and Mia Cenholt-Haulund played their friend, Dill. It is rare for children to really understand their characters and what is going on around them, but this trio was truly remarkable. (And Cenholt-Haulund was very plausible as a boy.)
The sound could have been better, but I think that the sound rehearsals did not plan for a full house. My only other complaint is that the show did not run longer. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of those plays - and books - that can be revisited every few years and leave the playgoer or reader moved each time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this entire creative team could reproduce this show in another venue? I saw this staged before, and it was good because of the story. But the Bridgeport Theatre Company's production made it so much better.
Next at the Bridgeport Theatre Company: Shrek The Musical from April 25 through May 10. For more information and for tickets, visit www.BridgeportTheatre.org. After seeing its production of Next to Normal last year, I know I won't want to miss Shrek.