BWW Review: First Stage Offers Persistence in Tough and Tenderhearted MOCKINGBIRD

Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo Photography

First Stage invites a recent Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts production to Milwaukee for a Midwest premiere: Mockingbird (mok'ing bûrd). The National Book Award WinnerYoung Adult novel by Kathryn Erskine and adapted by Julie Jensen presents the story of Caitlin-a 12 year old challenged by Autism. To add to the young girl's life, Caitlin recently lost her brother Devin. This leaves only her father and she to deal with their grief and moving forward in the compelling and poignant production.

Veteran Scenic Designer Brandon Kirkham, Lighting Designer Jessie Klug and Sound Designer Sarah H. Ramos illustrate a world in black and white, or shades of gray, a world Caitlin feels more comfortable These technicians through the lights and sounds portray the often agonizing sensory over stimulation an autistic child or adult can suffer, as they learn to compensate for their challenges. Or, a Caitlin experiences, when situations become too overwhelming, a TRM happens, or a Tantrum Rage Meltdown. In this tenderhearted production, several qualities Autistic individuals must deal with give the audience a small glimmer of understanding this syndrome which varies in degree from person to person.

On a Sunday afternoon, The Mockingbird cast performed under Director Marcella Kearns--both the subject matter (loss of a sibling or child) and autism, were portrayed sensitivity and realistically to help audiences explain this trauma. Young Performer Emily Harris embodies the 12 year old Caitlin struggling to remember the faces on her emotion charts and social strategies to survive her world, alone with losing a brother who helped her cope socially.

Adult actors beautifully round out the production. Dan Katula acting as Caitlin's father, Mr. Schneider, provides the parent dealing with his own grief while trying to connect with his daughter to ease hers. A counselor, Marvette Knight, and Caitlin's teacher, Elyse Edelman, offer encouragement and support. A cadre of young performers give the school room realism. Christian Wood, Caitlin's new young friend, faces his own challenges, yet in his touching performance these two students become friends.

As Caitlin says, "How can any word be more important than the heart?" The very tough subject material and dialogue relates to how her brother died and her emotions along with involving the audiences' heart. Caitlin invokes the heart from a classic character in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout, while she believes her father resembles Atticus, when they encourage each other to "work at it." Work at "it" even if and when a circumstance might be challenging or difficult, or someone wishes to give up in despair signals the audience to remember these words. When life's stresses become too great anyone might experience a TRM before empathy, kindness and persistence helps them overcome the challenging nature of circumstances. Perhaps this theme echoes another contemporary rallying cry from 2017: "Nevertheless, she persisted."

In First Stage's powerful Mockingbird, Caitlin, her father, her teacher, her counselor believed in persistence to overcome grief, loss and going enough time to move forward and make a new life for themselves without their brother and son with them Their creative efforts believe focusing on positive events channels this "work at it" energy where being tough and tenderhearted create emotional balance. First Stage also persists in presenting Theater for Young Audiences excellence and numerous world premieres while offering this extraordinary play asking all their audiences to persist in connection and kindness through their own lives.

To continue their both season, First Stage present Mockingbird (mok'ing-bûrd) at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through April 9, 2017. For tickets to the 2017-2018 season or performance schedule and tickets, please call: 414.273.7206 or visit:

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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