BWW Review: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Presents Inspired Production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

BWW Review: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Presents Inspired Production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The Repertory Theatre of St Louis is presenting Christopher Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it's a stunning production that is sure to be a smash hit. The addition of a representative group of African Americans referenced in the program as "The Community" improves the experience immeasurably. The play itself has only a couple of characters of color, and in previous productions I've seen this presented a problem for me. Given that the story is about injustice, this seemed to me to be a sort of injustice in and of itself. The basic story was there, of course, but something was missing that would further enhance a clearer understanding of the atmosphere and period. Now I can't imagine a staging that wouldn't follow the template set by this production. This is a powerful and timely show that qualifies impressively as must-see entertainment.

Set in Maycomb County, Alabama in 1935, the plot has widowed attorney Atticus Finch taking on the duty of defending a black man unjustly accused of assaulting a young white girl. Though the outcome is never really in doubt due to the prejudicial attitudes of the time, the case is important to Finch. As a parent he uses the trial to teach his children the true meaning of courage and the importance of standing by one's beliefs.

Lenne Klingaman plays the grown up incarnation of Atticus's daughter, Jean Louise, who narrates the play, and her approach adds a grown-up's insight. KayLee Ryan plays Scout, the younger version of Jean, and does a wonderful job, as do Ronan Ryan (Jem), and Charlie Mathis (Dill). Johnathan Gillard Daly is positively excellent in the crucial role of Atticus, seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, but determined to make a difference in his community. His strong characterization and nuanced performance has emotional depth, and there's an underlying passion in his portrayal that comes through clearly.

Terrell Donnell Sledge is exceptional in the small part of Tom Robinson, the man accused of rape. Sledge fully invests himself in the part and gives a clarity in his testimony that's compelling. Rachel Fenton is also good as his accuser, Mayella Ewell. Fenton accurately conveys the confusion and shame her poor and barely educated character feels. Alan Knoll is convincingly sinister as Mayella's father, Bob, the true villain of this piece. Christopher Harris also makes an impression as Boo Radley, particularly when he's the only around to protect Finch's children from the murderous advances of the elder Ewell.

The supporting cast is superb and deserving of recognition, and it includes: Ben Nordstrom, Amy Loui, Michael Keck, Jerry Vogel, Tanesha Grey, Whit Reichert, Kimmie Kidd, Cynthia Darlow, Miriam Dance, Melissa Harris, Alicia Like, Jason Little, and Felicia Rogers.

Risa Brainin's direction really makes this production truly special, and it's a stroke of genius to add "The Community" (Michael Keck, composer and music direction), singing evocative pieces that really give the play a sense of weight and gravity. Narelle Sissons scenic design keeps things simple in a way that allows us to fully focus on the action. Devon Painter's costumes fit the period, and Michael Klaers lighting design presents further moments of focus and mood.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis have outdone themselves with a superb production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I strongly urge you to see this, and take along your kids so they can experience it as well. This production continues through March 5, 2017 on the main stage of the Loretto-Hilton.

Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

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