To Kill A Mockingbird is playing at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, until November 27, 2023. That is tight timing and if you love theatre, you should go and see it.
There can be few people who have not heard of Harper Lee’s great novel. It was published in 1960 and has become an American classic. It is set in 1930s Alabama where racism is a roaring disease with Blacks being considered as subhuman and the Ku Klux Klan is ascendant. The novel tells the story of Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch) a black man charged with beating and raping a young white girl. He is defended by Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas) a country lawyer who rises above the indecency of most of the locals. He thinks he can find enough decency in an all-white, male jury to get an acquittal.
To Kill A Mockingbird is also the story of growing up in a small town in Alabama where widower Atticus Finch is raising two children with help of a Black woman.
In 1962 the novel was made into a great movie starring Gregory Peck and was adapted for the stage by Christpher Sergel in 1970, That stage adaptation was produced around the United States and in 2018 by the Stratford Festival. Aaron Sorkin adapted the novel anew for a production on Broadway in 2018 and it has proven to be remarkably successful, if less faithful to the novel.
The current touring production in Toronto is an outstanding example of superb theatre. Richard Thomas’s Atticus Finch defines human decency and standing for justice against the prevailing racism and ugliness of his society. As a side comment I note that Atticus is a hero to law students for his stand during the night outside the Maycomb County jail where his client is held and the Ku Klux Klan attends in force to lynch him.
Thomas gives a nuanced performance as a good father, neighbour and human being. In the Alabama of yesteryear and in far too many places in the United States today, he may still be considered an exception and almost a villain.
Atticus’ children, Scout (Melanie Moor) and Jem (Justin Mark) with their friend Dill (Stevev Lee Johnson) are, to coin a phrase, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and they provide much of the humour of the play. Wonderful performances by three actors who are not youngsters but they do a damn good job acting as such.
Yagel T. Welch gives a powerful and moving performance as Tom Robinson. He too is the soul of decency and he helps the young and pathetic Mayella (Mariah Lee) with some chores because he feels sorry for her. He is not allowed to say that because a black person is not permitted to say or feel.
sorry for the whites. He is instructed not to say he feels sorry for her to the white jurors, In a supreme irony, Robinson blurts out the truth that he did feel sorry for her. That may have sealed his conviction.
Mariah Lee renders a pathetic and pitiful Mayella who is abused by her father in the worst incestuous way imaginable. She befriends Robinson and tries to have physical, even sexual contact with a decent human being. When her father Bob Ewell (Ted Koch) sees this, he beats her to a pulp and accuses Robinson of raping her. Robinson and Ewell are on the two extremes of humanity: the supremely decent and the utterly evil.
Jeff Still presents a decent and humane Judge Taylor who presides over the trial and has a sense of humour. Jacqueline Williams plays a fine Calpurnia, the black woman who raised and looks after Atticus’s children after his wife’s death. She provides a small antidote of realism to Atticus’s optimism about the improvement of racial relations. She is not optimistic and she is right.
Miriam Buether’s sets are suitable, practical and efficient. The porch of the Finch house, the courtroom and the empty space on the street or in front of the courthouse are quickly changed as necessary and are all that we need for an outstanding production.
Sorkin’s superb adaptation finds a master director in Bartlett Sher to bring the whole thing together. The performances move well and the impact is indelible. Even if you have seen the movie and previous productions of the Sergel adaptation, you will be left astounded by this extraordinary night at the theatre.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, adapted by Aaron Sorkin opened on November 21 and will run until November 27, 2024, at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre. The production will be reprised on May 28, to June 2, 2024. For more information go to www.mirvish.com