BWW Reviews: Denver Center's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - A Masterpiece
The Denver Center Theatre Company presents its all-star veteran cast in Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the only book Lee ever wrote. While the story primarily follows the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman, the play also follows the coming-of-age adventures of siblings Jem and Scout and their friend Dill. Set in the depressive 1930s, fictional town Maycomb, Alabama offers the perfect landscape to explore Lee's bigger themes of social class, racism, gender roles, justice, ethics, and the loss of innocence.
This play is masterfully done, a profoundly moving production boasting some of Denver's finest talent. The innocence of the child characters serves as an emotional diffuser during the harder scenes depicting the prejudice, discrimination, and outright violence that were for so long the accepted status quo of the deep south. The climactic courtroom scene is an emotional ringer - the audience was visibly and audibly disturbed when the judge switched Bibles so Tom Robinson could take the oath without polluting the Holy Book for all of the white witnesses who had taken the stand before and after him. The strategy of addressing the audience as if they are the jury is an excellent touch that brings the audience ever deeper into the drama unfolding onstage. Atticus Finch's thought-provoking closing argument is one of those seminal moments in literary and theatrical history, reminding us that the big fight for equality is still being waged in 21st century America.
The kids are to be commended for such a great job! Eleven-year-old Caroline Rosenblum as young Scout and Matthew Gary as older brother Jem are simply remarkable in their roles, exuding a professionalism that any adult actor would respect. Kathleen McCall, who tells the story in flashback style as the adult version of Scout (aka, Jean Louise Finch), is enchanting and thoughtful, and excels at her craft. Her presence is subtle yet strong from scene to scene. One great technique that was utilized to relate the embodied experiences that adult Scout remembers was having Rosenblum mirror McCall's mannerisms, symbolizing the effect of young Scout's experiences on the adult Scout. Twenty-season veteran John Hutton commands the stage as principled defense attorney Atticus Finch, demonstrating Atticus's strength, wisdom, and humility in the face of such a daunting task. Kathleen Brady (who has 26 seasons with the Denver Company) knows how to bring out the comedy and does so with her interpretation of crotchety old Mrs. Dubose. Kim Staunton as the Finch's black housekeeper and surrogate mother-figure Calpurnia is endearing and fierce in this heartfelt role. In the courtroom, Tyrien Obahnjoko embodies every aspect of the accused Tom Robinson, showing a vulnerability that is simultaneously laced with fear and defiance. Courtney Esser as conflicted accuser Mayella Ewell is sad and utterly fascinating to watch - I couldn't take my eyes off her - and thirteen-season DCTC veteran Mike Hartman is creepily spot-on as Mayella's drunk, sexually-abusive father Bob Ewell.
The set, by designer James Kronzer, is remarkable, alternating seamlessly between the dusty front yard and porch of the Finch home and the sweaty Maycomb courtroom. This shift is accomplished through the genius use of Venetian blinds to offer a different vantage point and expand the stage space. The surreal combination of strategic lighting (designer Dan Darnutzer) and set placement took us back in time - I felt like I was sitting in a hot, depression-era courtroom. The music, composed by Gary Grundei, has a spiritual quality and fit perfectly with this production. In addition, the cricket and cicada chirps, skillfully integrated by Craig Breitenbach into the soundscape without distracting from the words and actions of the actors, added a simple touch to the oppressive atmosphere. It's important to note that while this story is dark and thought-provoking, it is also funny and touching in so many ways.
You still have time to check out this timeless masterpiece and experience the Denver Center Theatre Company at its best! TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is playing on the Stage Theatre at the Denver Center until October 30th. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.