“The first time I saw the movie, it had a profound effect on me,” said Murphy Davis, the artistic director of the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Mr. Davis is directing a stage version of Harper Lee’s classic drama “To Kill a Mockingbird” as part of the theater’s Literature Live series.
The objective: to take the curriculums of East End schools to the stage.
The play opens next Thursday with a school performance, and then will be presented to the public for the next three weekends, starting on Friday, Nov. 11, and Nov. 12.
Published in 1960 in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement, the novel was loosely based on an actual event that occurred near the author’s hometown of Monroeville, Ala., in 1936.
The story revolves around Scout, a tomboy, and her little brother, Jem, who are children when the book begins but gradually lose their innocence as they become aware of the racism and hate that predominate in their town, culminating with a black man put on trial for raping a white woman, a case their father, Atticus Finch, litigates.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for the young Ms. Lee, who never published another novel, but who also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, the highest civilian award, for her contribution to literature.
Two years after it was published, the book was adapted into a film, which won Academy Awards for the screenwriter, Horton Foote, and for Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch, who has also been named “the greatest movie hero of the 20th century” by the American Film Institute. The movie also featured Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, in his screen debut.
The challenge, Mr. Davis said, is working with something so iconic. “I’ve discussed it with the cast,” he said. “How do you make it immediate and in the moment when most of the audience know the story and know how it ends?”
In spite of the familiarity of the piece, Mr. Davis said, “it is universal and timeless. It deals with an unsettling view for the capacity to hate in our culture, but when I saw it as a kid, I was also changed by it.”
“It was the first time I felt what it was to be a part of humanity, with its challenges and pitfalls and the triumphs that are possible,” said Mr. Davis.
Literature Live at Bay Street is a program geared toward presenting books onstage that are currently being read by a majority of middle and high school students. “We offer three to five choices and we poll the schools to see what they’re interested in,” Mr. Davis said. “We want to keep this curriculum-based.” The program debuted two years ago with “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and last year Bay Street offered up a production of “The Miracle Worker,” based on the early life of Helen Keller.
This production features some familiar East End faces, along with a few newcomers and some out-of-towners. The cast list includes Shonnese C.L. Coleman from New York City (Calpurnia), Lily Spellman from Hampton Bays (Scout), Susan Galardi from Sag Harbor (Miss Maudie), Keith Francis of Patchogue (Judge Taylor, Mr. Cunningham, Boo Radley), Seth Hendricks of Southampton (Heck Tate), Joanna Howard of Westhampton (Mayella Ewell), Joe Pallister of Sag Harbor (Bob Ewell), Myles Stokowsky of Sag Harbor (Jem), Hudson Galardi-Troy of Sag Harbor (Dill), Ken Foreman of New York City (Atticus Finch), McKinley Belcher III of New York City (Tom Robinson), and Scott Thomas Hinson of Southampton (Mr. Gilmer).
“It’s been a treat working with talented local actors,” Mr. Davis said.
Tickets for “To Kill a Mockingbird” cost $10 for students, $20 for adults, and are on sale at the Bay Street box office or online at baystreet.org. Performances will continue on Nov. 18, 25, and 26.