To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Christopher Sergel

From the novel by Harper Lee.

Prospect Theater Project
at the Gallo Center for Performing Arts
May 13-21, 2011
Friday-Sunday, 8 pm


If you don’t like this play, there’s something seriously wrong with you.  Christopher Sergel has adapted Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of Southern prejudice in the ‘30s to fit the stage. It is in many ways a Herculean endeavor, not least because so most of us have already fixed the drama in our minds as Gregory Peck, the noble White Man, fighting the near irresistible force of prejudice in the Deep South.

It really doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen the movie or read the book. It’s great theater no matter how familiar you are with it. There are some themes, some conflicts, that matter no matter how often you hear of them and this is one of them.

Early in the play, there is an exchange between Scout, Atticus’s tomboy daughter, and an elderly lady in the community, Miss Maudie.

MISS MAUDIE: Do you smell my mimosa? It’s like angel’s breath.

SCOUT:  Yessum. When Atticus [her father] gave [us] air rifles, he asked us never to shoot mockingbirds.

MISS MAUDIE: And he’s right. Mockingbirds just make music. They don’t eat up people’s gardens; don’t nest in corncribs; they don’t do one single thing but sing their hearts out. That’s why it‘s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

“Everyone in town knows what kind of folks the Ewells are,” Scout says later on, but it doesn’t matter when white Bob Ewell accuses black Tom Robinson of rape.

Atticus, fiftyish single father of two young children, is selected to defend Tom. He knows that his advocacy of Tom will put him at odds with his neighbors, but he takes the charge any way. “It’s about right and wrong,” he says. That’s one of the epiphanies of this wonderful play, that in the heart of the most prejudiced part of the old South there are people who feel that regardless of skin color, people should be judged as people, not as members of a condemned and inferior class. There are people in every community who feel that truth and justice matter.

Anyone who’s seen the movie remembers the lynch scene. A mob of liquored up white men descend on the jail house intent on lynching Tom. They are confronted by one reasonable, pacific man, who, at the critical moment, is joined by his young daughter and son. The lynch mob is shamed by the presence of the children. They leave, and Atticus’s son says to his father, “I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend.” Atticus responds, in one of the most telling exchanges in a play filled to the brim with telling exchanges: “Still is. He just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.”

Mockingbird is a more conventional play than many associate with the Prospect Theater Project, but it plays to strengths of the Prospect –a strong narrative line, great acting roles, and a script that forces the audience to think about serious issues.  It’s a play that will appeal to everyone.