Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 30, 2023

REVIEW: The Bushnell, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through July 7, 2023
by Beverly Dane

The drama "To Kill a Mockingbird" is an honest and heartfelt story to cap-off the Bushnell's 2022/23 season. Unusual for this venue is inclusion of a Broadway play, rather than a musical. However, "Mockingbird" is well-worth the change in format.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Richard Thomas, in the lead role as Atticus Finch, was welcomed with entrance applause. His stoic figure ignited an electricity in the crowd. The audience could appreciate the embodiment of the Atticus Finch that we’ve all read about. Thomas didn’t disappoint. His paternal, loving, collected, and unassuming portrayal was one of a kind. His "Mockingbird" monologue in particular drew forth a kind of murmur from the audience. It embodied introspection and culminated in applause. 

The heaviest lifting in the play is done by Melanie Moore. She portrays Atticus' young daughter Scout in a way that balances the character’s arc from stoicism to cynicism while maintaining a youthfulness that radiates whenever the moment requires. This role is difficult as Scout's narration is at many times that of a little girl who knows everything but shouldn’t have to. 

Excellent performances abound from other cast members. Justin Mark (Jem Finch) and Steven Lee Johnson (Dill Harris) provide a delicate mix of gumption, bravery, and playful boyishness that any kid who drank water from a hose would recognize. They intricately provide a foil to Moore’s maturity level along with some beautifully timed one-liners.

Stalwart Jacquelyn Williams’ Calpurnia is the most intelligent character on the stage; nearly every line delivered was met with audible reactions from the crowd. Arianna Stucki’s Mayella Ewell was haunting and terrifying. Yaegel Welch’s Tom Robinson was passionate yet subdued. While somewhat entertaining, Joey Collins’ portrayal of the bigoted Bob Ewell seemed reminiscent of a cartoonish villain. At certain points, dialogue was heavily reliant upon straightforward narration, and audience members became restless. 

The challenges seem to come down to the curious choices made in direction and design. The biggest flaw comes from a clunky set design that often detracts from the action, perhaps intentionally? Some scenes can’t quite finish because an actor must move a staircase underneath a platform, for example. It’s difficult to tell if the set was designed in a way to cover the abundance of narration or, in reverse, if the narration was contrived to cover the overly complex and even unnecessary scenic changes.

Scout, Jem, and Dil are superb as the narrators. This is a beautiful concept overall. Yet, movements during the court scenes felt arbitrary, and at times, in the way. With so much talent on the stage let’s just allow actors to do their jobs with honesty and grace and get the furniture, so to speak, out of the way.

Finally: A nod to the unsung heroes at season's end is important. Greeted by a very friendly box office staff, a wonderful woman helped at the concession stand, the security guard wished sincere pleasantries that it made this reviewer, and likely most audience members, feel comfortable. The front of house team of volunteers and employees do amazing work which augments the pleasure of the theatre experience.