THEATRE REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird 

Who Are We?: Charleston Stage's Mockingbird is still poignant

To Kill a Mockingbird
Feb. 19, 20, 21, 27, 28, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22, 3 p.m.
$22-$29
Memminger Auditorium
56 Beaufain St.
(843) 577-7183
www.charlestonstage.com

In his director's notes for Charleston Stage's To Kill A Mockingbird, Julian Wiles reflects on the classic tale and the long struggle that called forth brave voices like Harper Lee's. The bittersweet spirit of that reminiscence shapes Wiles' production, elevates it, and makes it ring true.

Much of the story centers on Scout (Susanne McDonald), her brother Jem (Sam Cass), and their father Atticus Finch (Victor Clark), who stand against a larger tide of emotions deftly represented by the townspeople. In this segregated community, Atticus' defense of a black man wrongfully accused of a heinous crime speaks to race relations. It also reflects the kind of coming-of-age his children have in Depression-era South.

Clark's Finch is the town's conscience and its better angel. Clark gives his character modesty, resolve, and patience as well as the courage to take on meaningful failure — shouldering the burden of doing the right thing "even when you know you're licked before you begin." It is a performance that's all the more moving for being built slowly throughout the play — it sneaks up on you full force in the pivotal courtroom scene.

A happy surprise is the children. Susanne McDonald is entirely convincing as Scout, the outspoken tomboy who does not suffer fools gladly. She and Sam Cass exasperate and egg each other on like genuine siblings. With their lovable pal Dill (Sam Chase), the innocent trio finds itself wrenched into a harsh lesson about the adults they look to for guidance.

Mockingbird has more than two dozen cast members, but the only time the stage feels crowded is when the weight and press of all these townspeople is needed to reinforce the question: Are we a mob or are we individuals — culpable, fearful, estranged from one another, arrogant and innocent?

Wiles takes a near-cinematic approach to achieving this. Lighting, musical interludes, and recurring narrators Ms. Maudie (Samille Basler) and Mrs. Stephanie (Barbara Nicolai) lead us through the explosive events. If hatred and malice are the result, we see that ignorance and fear are its causes.

The pace is steady. Each vignette reveals a new dimension of this sad morality tale. That Mockingbird takes on a new degree of poignancy in these times is a testament to the power of Harper Lee and, in this production, to the outstanding humanity and all-embracing compassion the splendid cast brings to their work. It is a moving experience. And an uplifting evening of theater. —Jon Santiago


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