A classic in any year, this time around at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, “To Kill A Mockingbird” seems particularly significant. In 2017 it seems ludicrous that we’re on the path to returning to the way things were in 1935 Maycomb, Alabama, but the atmosphere seems juiced and it looks like our current presidential administration would like to return to these “good ol’ boy” days. Thanks to the return of Atticus Finch, we’re reminded how we can’t let this happen again.
It’s tough to compete with Gregory Peck but Jonathan Gillard Daly has that quiet spirit and firm but soothing tone that we expect of Atticus Finch. The small town lawyer who takes up the case of the young black man accused of raping a young white girl seems to be a lost cause but he pokes holes in the case against Tom Robinson to no avail. A lesson is learned and we learn it best from Atticus, his two children and a young boy visiting his aunt for the summer.
A strong performance by young Kaylee Ryan as Scout leads the way for the three children who, in their innocence, try to understand the mood of the town when they know Tom to be innocent. She is a natural on stage and easily brings forth the befuddlement of a young girl who hasn’t yet been tainted by a world of prejudice and hate. Kaylee’s twin brother, Roman Ryan does a fine job as Jem- her older brother in the play. And young Charlie Mathis- in a superb performance as well- rounds out the “three musketeers” as they battle against social injustice with the naiveté of pre-teen children.
Ben Nordstrom does well as the prosecutor trying to put Tom away- a nice way of saying getting him lynched- and doubles up as Boo Radley’s older brother while Christopher Harris is Boo and Walter Cunningham. Whit Reichert is a superb judge who takes no back talk from anyone in his courtroom. Alan Knoll shines in a very different role for him lately- the redneck father who continually stands and vilifies Atticus as he cross examines his daughter. As the daughter, Rachel Fenton has returned to our fair city after a few years in New York and she is amazing as the wretched young girl who tries to frame Tom. Both with her hate-spewed dialogue and, more importantly with her posture and demeanor when she’s fidgeting on the stand, she is a small study in proper acting technique.
A mix of several local and other professional actors assemble the remaining cast with nice work by Terrell Donnell Sledge as Tom, Tanesha Gary as the Finch housemaid and babysitter as well as Michael Keck as Reverend Sykes who also arranged the unique gospel music that breaks up scenes in “To Kill A Mockingbird” as the Negro crowd (relegated to the upper balcony in the courtroom) help move the plot with the inspirational melodies.
Director Risa Brainin keeps the play moving even though it still comes in at about two and a half hours or better with one intermission. Although Narelle Sissons has done some clever work with the set design, it might be just a bit too spare. The tree dominates the stage left side with the courtroom scenes, the Finch household and various other spaces taking up the rest. Rolling screen doors on and even the neighborhood “get off my lawn” lady rolling in on a wheelchair with a window and flower box attached are nice touches but they don’t make up for one of the major “characters” in the story- Boo Radley’s ominous house. The Devon Painter costumes are excellent as are the lights designed by Michael Klaers.
It’s always a treat to visit this Harper Lee classic- even after the disappointing book sequel that came out a few years ago. This adaptation of the stage play is by Christopher Sergel. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is still a moving piece that is a constant reminder of how important it is to not lose ground that has been so preciously won over the years. It plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through March 5th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.