Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Brings a Reimaged Classic to the San Diego Civic Theatre

Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Brings a Reimaged Classic to the San Diego Civic Theatre

Playing through December 4th.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD from Aaron Sorkin and directed by Bartlett Sher offers a reimagined framing of the classic novel and movie. The excellent cast, including Richard Thomas as Atticus, brings a moving, confident, and powerful story to the stage about a time gone by with issues that feel as relevant as ever. To Kill a Mockingbird from Broadway San Diego is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through December 4th.

The classic story remains the same, but the restructuring of it is noticeable from the start when the three children of the piece Scout (Melanie Moore), Jem (Justin Mark), and Dill (Steven Lee Johnson) -who are all played by adults in this- introduce the key players of the trial. It is a memory play, as told by all three kids who act as both narrators and participants, weaving the story of their summer and the trial together smoothly.

Richard Thomas as Atticus is educated, genial, and believes in the power of the truth and the American judicial system. He believes that the people of Maycomb as essentially good and in a court of law those same people will act on facts and truth instead of prejudice. As should be expected from an Aaron Sorkin adaption there are plenty of impassioned speeches on right and wrong, and quippy one-liners that Thomas delivers with easy credibility. Equally as powerful is that this Attaicus has flaws and blindspots and is more human than the oft-remembered paragon lawyer from the movie.

Other effective changes are that the accused Tom (Yaegel T. Welch) and Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) the maid in the Finch home are both given more agency and fire than the characters are originally drawn.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Yaegel T. Welch, foreground, as Tom Robinson and Rochard Thomas, left, as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Welch gives powerful testimony as Tom who is literally fighting for his life. He has empathy, dignity, and a keen understanding of his circumstances. His testimony of the events of that day builds suspense with the audience along with Atticus, who worries how the jury will react to this tale.

Williams' Calpurnia is not afraid to voice her anger and frustration directly to Atticus. She delivers him a set down and challenges his idea of being polite and respectful to everyone and "It don't matter who you disrespect by doing it" to audience applause.

Having Scout, Jem, and Dill played adults is a bit of a risk but it does allow for much more nuanced portrayals of the absolute surety of emotion; right, wrong, fear and everything in between that can only be felt as a child. Moore as Scout is sweet and too smart for her own good, while Mark as Jem is winning as a character navigating the difficulties at an age that is no longer a child but isn't just yet a man. Johnson as Dill brings a lot of humor and sensitivity as the sweet and talkative neighbor.

The play is most vibrant during the trial, where the prosecutor Horace Gilmer (Luke Smith) shows barely hidden prejudices, while the vile Bob Ewell (Joey Collins) shouts them out loud. Mayella Ewell ( Jacqueline Williams) is both a victim who cowers and then switches into vehement vitriol that echoes her father. All of which is calmly, and competently challenged by Thomas' Atticus.

While it's easy to think of the book and the movie as classics from the past, this reimaged play and staging directed by Bartlett Sher feel very modern day in the racist arguments, what constitutes justice, and the derision of the ideas of education and equality as intellectual elitism.

The set by scenic designer Miriam Buether allows for the Finch house and the courtroom to easily slide in and out between scenes. There is no doubt the witness stand in the courtroom is meant to look a bit like a rustic electric chair- as a reminder of what waits if the verdict is guilty.

With all of the changes the play makes, many of which were challenged by Harper Lee's estate before being allowed, it is disappointing that with all of the powerful dialogue Sorkin wrote challenging racism, more opportunities were not created for them to be said by the Black characters.

As I left the theatre I spoke with many audience members who told me that this book and movie are some of their favorites, many of who watch or re-read it on an annual basis. Adaptions can be tricky for these fans who know and love their versions, but everyone I spoke to loved this version which is a testament to the performers.

This version of To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't allow Atticus to be the perfect paragon of virtuousness, it complicates that memory by blurring those hard lines and making him more human. The story is better and more relatable for it. Politeness and respect only go so far, especially in the face of vigilante justice; the tolerance of monsters only allows them to continue to be monstrous.

How To Get Tickets

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD from Broadway San Diego is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, December 4th. For ticket and show time information go to

Photo credit: Justin Mark, left, Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore, and Steven Lee Johnson in To Kill a Mockingbird - photo Courtesy of Julieta Cervante

Related Stories
Review: Sorkins TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Is An Update Fit for the New Banned-Books Era &mdash Photo
Can you kill a mockingbird today without overkilling it? Sixty-three years after Harper Lee's iconic American novel released to instant controversy and enduring acclaim - nary a high schooler gets to cap or gown without an essay on it - this is the challenge confronting playwright Aaron Sorkin. Worry not; this mockingbird has a new song to sing...

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Extends For a Final Time to 20 May Photo
The critically-acclaimed commercial hit production of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird – a new play by multi-award-winning Aaron Sorkin, directed by Tony Award-winning Bartlett Sher, extends for a final time at the Gielgud Theatre.

Photos: Inside Media Night For TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at the Gielgud Theatre Photo
Last night was the media night for To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre, featuring the new cast starring Matthew Modine. Guests included Lydia West and Gwendoline Christie. Check out photos here!

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Faces New Legal Troubles Photo
In 2019 the producers of the Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird sought to prevent small theaters around the country from staging an earlier dramatization of the novel. Now, the publisher of the earlier adaptation of the novel is seeking the stop the Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird from being staged at a variety of venues.

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

From This Author - E.H. Reiter

Review: GUNTOPIA at The Roustabouts Theatre CoReview: GUNTOPIA at The Roustabouts Theatre Co
March 20, 2023

It took 3 years and one pandemic, but Will Cooper’s world premiere satire gUnTOPIA has finally opened to audiences at The Roustabouts Theatre Co. The show is a dark comedy pondering what life and society could look like if gun ownership was universal, and not carrying a weapon was against the law.   gUnTOPIA is playing through April 2nd.

Review: GOD OF CARNAGE at Backyard RenaissanceReview: GOD OF CARNAGE at Backyard Renaissance
March 18, 2023

Backyard Renaissance pulls no punches with their current production of GOD OF CARNAGE- where two couples have come together to resolve a fight between their children, but it quickly devolves from polite pretense to a delightfully chaotic and comedic confrontation as the gloves start to come off.  GOD OF CARNAGE from Backyard Renaissance is playing at 10th Avenue Arts Center through March 25th.

Review: THE CHERRY ORCHARD at North Coast Repertory TheatreReview: THE CHERRY ORCHARD at North Coast Repertory Theatre
March 18, 2023

THE CHERRY ORCHARD at North Coast Repertory Theatre brings a contemporary contemplation to a classic play with strong performances and a lovely set.  THE CHERRY ORCHARD is playing through April 2nd at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

Review: UNDER A BASEBALL SKY at The Old GlobeReview: UNDER A BASEBALL SKY at The Old Globe
February 23, 2023

 San Diego has deep ties to baseball well before the Padres arrived on the scene. The Old Globe’s new play UNDER A BASEBALL SKY, set in Logan Hieghts shows how baseball can become an important thread in the tapestry of individuals and their communities. This 90-minute play has mystery, family, magical realism, and a lot of heart and is playing through March 12th at The Old Globe.

Review: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WTH GEORGE at CCAE Theatricals is not to be missedReview: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WTH GEORGE at CCAE Theatricals is not to be missed
February 22, 2023

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE may be a beloved musical,  but it isn’t staged that often- it requires an excellent cast to perform a show based on a classic painting by George Seurat, with the complicated but gorgeous Sondheim music to perform in order to make it great.  Luckily, this show by CCAE Thearicals is stunningly good, from vocals to musicians, and scenery it is a show you do not want to miss.   SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is playing through March 5th.