Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 1, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird

Hartford Stage, Hartford
through April 4, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Why would anyone who has already read the book, or watched the movie, or both (perhaps a couple of times each) want to spend time seeing a theatrical production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”? The answer is not necessarily “wanting” but “needing”. Every decade or so, audiences/readers must be reminded of the tale of the mockingbird and its themes of justice and courage amidst ignorance and fear.

Hartford Stage has, thankfully, brought this Depression-era story set in the Deep South to today’s New England audiences. While Harper Lee’s characters lived 70-years ago, it is not hard to understand and empathize with many of the important issues that, to a large degree, remain the same.

Throughout the play, a narrator (the adult Scout) reflects on episodes in one particular year in her young life. Her presence, coupled with floating sets and seamless onstage movement by cast and crew, creates an unbreakable line of content and emotion that build to the perfect crescendo. All the time, director Michael Wilson uses every scene – even those that are but three minutes long – to subtly maximize the audience’s belief of the times, struggles, and characters.

Matthew Modine is one of those actors seen often on TV and in movies, but few remember his name. He’s not an “A List” guy, but he should be. To be equally excellent on screen and on the stage is rare. This man is the consummate professional. Modine’s Atticus Finch personifies a man of integrity who, by the way, is one of the wisest father figures in literature.

The three child actors (Olivia Scott, Henry Hodges, and Andrew Shipman) probably have the most onstage time and dialogue, yet each is ideal in his/her role. It’s hard to imagine others cast in these parts. They create the mold that structures the play with their innocence, respect, fearlessness, lack of prejudice, and frankness (“out of the mouths of babes”). Their characters exemplify the qualities that ought to be and that there might be hope for the future.

A visionary director, exemplary actors, and skilled crew make “Mockingbird” a piece of theatre to experience more than once.