“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s seminal civil rights masterpiece that rocked the world when it was published, has come to the Bay Street Theatre stage, under the able hand of Murphy Davis as director. Cut down to 90 minutes with no intermission, the production is offered as part of the theater’s Literature Live educational outreach program.
The audience is greeted with the sight of Gary Hygom’s brilliant set — puzzle pieces of three houses on a street in different stages of dereliction, Spanish moss draped languorously from the trees. Tim Huth’s lighting adds shadows and heat to the scene.
The show features Ken Forman as Atticus Finch, a man whose conscience rules his actions, with Lily Spellman and Myles Stokowski as his children, Scout and Jem, who learn the lessons of a lifetime during the course of the play. All three give terrific performances, along with the rest of the cast.
Most audience members are familiar with the plot: a small-town lawyer bucks tradition to take on the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman in rural Alabama in the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of his tomboy daughter. Ms. Lee’s semiautobiographical novel dealt with race from a fully humanistic standpoint, and the book, which was published in 1960, was used in schoolrooms as early as 1963. The film, starring Gregory Peck, is still held up as one of the most powerful films of the 20th century. The prejudice and racial slurs were not toned down for the Bay Street version, which is to the credit of the director. It still packs a quite a punch to hear the N word used with so little regard.
Miss Maudie, played by Susan Galardi, acts as narrator and chorus, filling in the blanks, and Shonnese C.L. Coleman’s portrayal of Calpurnia, the Finches’ housemaid, is layered with her love of the Finch family and her moment in the courtroom. McKinley Belcher III gives a terrific performance as Tom Robinson, the accused, and Joanna Howard gives an equally good performance as Mayella Ewell, his accuser.
The supporting cast are all very good — Joe Pallister’s Bob Ewell encapsulates the word redneck, Seth Hendricks’s Sheriff Heck Tate shows how difficult it can be to walk the line between your job and your heart, along with Keith Francis and Scott Thomas Hinson.
Special mention must be made of Hudson Galardi-Troy as Dill, the embodiment of Ms. Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote. Playing a Little Lord Fauntleroy who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, Mr. Galardi-Troy gives a strong performance for one so young.
Mr. Davis arranges his actors to make full use of the Bay Street space, especially the kids, who can be found peeking from the back of the house, running down the aisles, and generally acting like kids. Because of this, it’s not always easy to hear all the lines, especially of the children, but this is a small price to pay to see a work so professionally brought to life.
On Saturday night, the audience was 99 percent adults; students in the area are attending daytime shows with their schools. However, if you haven’t seen or read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a while, this is your chance to spend an evening getting reacquainted with America’s not-so-distant and still momentous past.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” can be seen tomorrow at 7 p.m., and on Friday, Nov. 25, and Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and teachers.