To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless classic. Everyone knows the story; it has been told many times in many ways — the original novel, movies, or, in this case, theatre performances. Although one might think it would become a tired retelling after having committed this story practically to memory, To Kill a Mockingbird and Classic Repertory Theatre Company rise to the challenge. Director Clay Hopper’s vision is simple and perfectly portrays the story, somehow helping modern audiences to understand and relate to To Kill a Mockingbird while staying true to its original setting: 1930s Alabama. There are only seven actors telling the story, each playing several characters throughout the performance. Because of the small cast, some characters were cut from the show entirely. For example, in the original stage production, Jean Louise – grown up Scout – narrates much of the show. However, in Classic Rep’s production, the other characters take on the narrator role, often introducing themselves or acting out scenes Jean would have described. The costume design was genius; all costumes were simple and versatile enough that actors could easily change from one character to another without major costume changes while still making it clear that they were switching roles. The actors also helped these changes come to life with changes in body language, accents, and mannerisms. Slava Tchoul, the actor for both Dill and Bob Ewell, was especially talented in this respect. He was able to completely transform from an adorable, hilarious little boy into an aging man, one of the dregs of society. There were also many dialogue changes, especially when discussing Tom Robinson’s alleged crime. In the original production, it never states outright that Mayella was accusing him of rape; the most explicit line being “he took advantage of [Mayella].” In Classic Rep’s production, there were a lot of lines about rape added, making it very clear to the audience what they are accusing Tom of having done. Heck Tate, originally a morally ambiguous character at best, was removed from the mob scene and portrayed as sympathetic even when testifying for the prosecution against Tom Robinson. These modifications made Heck’s character more likable and made it clear where his loyalties lie.
Mr. Gilmer, the lawyer for the prosecution, had to be cut from part of the show because he was played by the same actor as Heck, the incredibly talented Alex Deroo. During this scene, the entire cast read Gilmer’s lines, representing the idea that all of society prosecuted Tom Robinson. This message was repeated once again when the jury comes back in and the cast presents the guilty verdict. Atticus Finch, played by Chris Kandra, was perhaps the best character in the show. He was simultaneously kind and serious, relaxed and formal, and, above all, reasonable and passionate. Atticus seemed to know how to handle Mayella better than anyone else in the courtroom; he realized she was not the same as other witness he would question in an ordinary case. He allowed his language and mannerisms to become more relaxed and informal while maintaining the professional air of a lawyer. Overall, this show was incredibly well done. Dir. Hopper was much more focused on the truth of the story and the lessons behind it than the accuracy in dialogue or characters. This was definitely the right decision and allowed for a masterful retelling of this classic story.
By Jacqueline Lemieux