To Kill a Mockingbird / our review
PROFOUND Inspiring timely
Dec 10th, 2018
It's Black And White On Broadway
Fun Fact: Gbenga Akinnagbe plays Tom Robinson, the actor's name, Gbenga, means "lift up" in the Yoruba speaking tribe of Nigeria. And that he does, he lifts up the ancient voices and calls everyone to rise.
Target Audience: I think the popularity of this book speaks for itself!
Best Bit: Celia Keenan-Bolger (Scout) is absolutely magnetic on stage, leading a powerful movement with wisdom and love.
Morning After Effect: A production handled with the care and fervor it so deserves, with world-class performances!
There isn't anything more harrowing than the past existing in the present - like a ghost wandering your home feeling entitled to a space that you inhabit. Such is the case with Harper Lee's famed book To Kill A Mockingbird, which has made its way to Broadway. While it should feel like a glimpse back in time to the 1930s, it is chillingly current. The superb scenic design by Miriam Buether and costumes by Ann Roth are the carpentry and drapes of 1930s Maycomb, Alabama but the spirit of prejudice escapes the bounds of time.
Let me not assume that everyone has read Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird published in 1960, or seen the film that followed just a year after Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It has been studied in schools across the world, and was nominated as America's most loved novel in 2018. I suppose it is no surprise then that the Broadway rendition by Aaron Sorkin has caused a frenzy of ticket sales.
The story follows six-year-old girl Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), her older brother Jem (Will Pullen) and their summer friend Dill (Gideon Glick). Together they narrate their father's biggest case in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels) is defending a black man Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe) who has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman, a crime which will result in the death penalty. The white woman, Mayella Ewell (Erin Wilhelmi) is represented by Horace Gilmer (Stark Sands), a respected man of the law, with her case further fueled by her bigot father Bob Ewell (Frederick Weller).
What makes this story profound is the innocent voices of the children who narrate this drama. They cannot fathom the idea of justice being compromised by stereotypes and stigmas, conceded by racism. That justice looks at the color of your skin, not the person within. The notion that a group of "good Christian people", neighbors and friends, would send an innocent man to his death rather than stand up against the normalcy of their discrimination is sickening to them.
Bartlett Sher's direction and staging lure you in from the moment the lights are up. To the left we have an African American man strumming Southern cords on his guitar, his notes feeling free and improvised, to the right we see a white woman playing a church organ, everything about her is pressed and procedural, her melodies don't belong to her but rather repetition from the page. The contrast of freedom and form, of masculinity and femininity. Sher's effective staging absorbs the audience and suddenly you are in the courtroom, you are witnessing the injustice, and by the end - you have said and done nothing but observe. Sher slowly pulls your chords within, gradually increasing the tension, ripping your heart open and shattering your soul. How can this still be happening?
Sorkin and Sher are telling the most important bedtime story for - and from - the next generation and perhaps the grown-ups will listen. We don't tolerate bullies, not in our homes, not on the playground or in our courtrooms, and certainly not in our governments. The gut-wrenching reality is that the children, of course, have no say, not just yet, and we have to witness the inevitable evil play out - baffled by the biases that still ensue, and Sorkin is asking us once again, ALL RISE.
Strum the chords of freedom, be real good people and let the ghosts of our pasts be dead.
View our show pages for more information about To Kill a Mockingbird, Shubert Theatre.