Quote of the Day: Most people see what they’re looking for and hear what they’re listening for. Judge Taylor in Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, on stage now at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN. The play adaptation is by Christopher Sergel, the only adaptation that is approved by the author. I heard that in some productions Scout is played by an adult actor who does much of the narration. In this production, and the one I saw at Central Lakes College in Brainerd a few years ago, Scout is played by a child actress. The narration is done by the character Miss Maudie. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes and voice of Scout Finch, who is about nine-years-old in the play adaptation. The book spans about three years of her life, from ages six to nine. In the 1962 film adaptation, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch to perfection, and Mary Badham plays the part of Scout so well that she looked and acted just how I imagined her while reading the book. Little Mary Blair, who starred in the production I saw at The Guthrie Theater, creates the same energy and innocence as the film actor and the person described on the pages of Harper Lee’s famous novel. We are offered the chance to see the world through the eyes of a nine-year-old who adores her father and fights for his honor. We see her trying to make sense of a world that is filled with conflicting and confusing messages, of adults who seem at one time compassionate and gracious, and other times wicked and cruel. She believes in justice and good triumphing over evil, and that the evidence will be obvious to even the hardest heart. In watching the courtroom drama unfold, her ideal views of the world are smashed as the gavel of injustice sounds.
Cast of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Joan Marcus.
To Kill a Mockingbird is not an easy story to digest. It can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth for man’s inhumanity towards man. You cringe at the language and actions of some of the characters, yet feel hope when others rise to the occasion and exhibit courage under fire, especially when that fire of hate is burning strong in your next door neighbor. Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Sometimes, the bravest thing you must do is to go against the majority opinion, to break the code, and to be willing to weather the blows of fear and hatred from your own community. The mob mentality is the easy road. But, “a mob is made up of people,” says Atticus, and people can learn to think for themselves.
Atticus Finch (Baylen Thomas), Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch (Noah Deets), Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Bair) and Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (Isaac Leer). Photo by Joan Marcus.
If I give my children only one gift in this life, it is to teach them to think for themselves. Krista and I brought five teenage boys to this play. My two boys had not read the book, nor seen the movie or play. One of the boys had read the book for school, but didn’t necessarily like it, and her two boys had read part of the book and seen the movie. The courtroom scene kept them riveted. I asked if they were surprised at anything. They said, “No.” In some ways that makes me feel horribly sad. It means that they have already learned that men can be accused, tried, convicted, and killed in the court of social code, and that all men are not really created equal. And, that while we have a system of justice in place, it doesn’t always come through for us. In some ways our culture has changed and evolved, and in other ways, it has not. In the discussion following this performance, several actors came back out, and it was young Mary Blair (Scout) who said that we cannot run away from our problems. We can’t hide from our history. The question was posed, “At what age do you expose children to this story?” The kids in the cast seemed to be saying that at a certain age, the kids are ready for those heavy discussions, and that you can’t shield them from the darkness of this world forever. “It’s part of our history,” said Mar. Bruce Bohne, who plays dark-hearted Bob Ewell, said he had to go to that dark place to play such an evil character. He said that he had to face the fact that there really are people like that in this world.
The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.
My favorite scene in reading this book, and watching the adaptations, is when Atticus sits in front of the jailhouse, waiting for the mob to arrive. When they do, they are surprised by Scout, Jem, and Dill who question their actions. Scout saves the day by calling Mr. Cunningham out and talking about his son, his “entailment,” and wondering what he’s doing there. It illustrates the biblical quote,”…and a child will lead them.” You can see it in your daily life. People who are harsh with their words and actions often shape up when they notice a child watching and listening to them. No baby is born hating anyone, and no child comes out of the womb fearing for their lives because of what they look like or where their ancestors came from. We learn by observing those around us.
As I sat in the audience, watching the courtroom drama, I realized that none of the actors on stage are the jury. They are the main players, the town folks, the prosecutors, and the defense. Who, then, is the jury? Is it those of us in the audience? I looked around at the audience, and wondered, Who is the intended audience for this story? What is it about this story that caused some people to decide that it should be part of every high school student’s curriculum, while it made others protest saying it should be banned? And, why do we keep going back to it?
I liked how James Youmans designed the set to be representational of the street where Scout grew up. We see the front porch of the Radley house, the swing where Scout does her thinking, and we hear the creak of the screen door. We don’t need bells and whistles and high tech effects to pay attention to this story. To Kill a Mockingbird is a beloved story. Scout Finch is a character we admire for her charm, wit, and her way of questioning the code. We feel for her and with her as she discovers the ugly side of life. Perhaps some of us reread passages (or the whole novel), watch favorite scenes, or attend the current productions because we want to experience again what it’s like to see the world through a child’s perspective. You can do that again at The Guthrie Theater. Because the themes are quite heavy and the attack scene a little scary, I wouldn’t bring young children to this play. The child actors are 10-years-old or older. The director double cast the kids’ roles, and the adult actors said that has been an excellent experience for them. Each actor gives the characters something unique.
We brought five teenage boys to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Guthrie Theater. Thumbs up and a head nod from all of them. They enjoyed watching the show, and we had a great day out with our boys (plus one guest). Photo by kind Guthrie patrons who took our photo, chatted a bit about the excellent Guthrie Theater, ended up sitting behind us during the show, and tapped me on the shoulder on the way out to say, “I loved it.” Thanks, it was nice meeting you!
Apologies: I failed to mention that the children are double cast in this production at The Guthrie Theater. I certainly meant to. In fact, during the talk back discussion, Baylen Thomas who plays Atticus said that having two sets of kids rehearse separately was an excellent experience for him as an actor. I’m sure both sets of kids added their own unique nuances to their characters. This review is from my viewing on Sunday, September 20, 2015, at the matinee performance. To see more photos from Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) opening night, visit the Guthrie Theater Facebook page.
Isadora Swan and Mary Blair, double cast as Scout in The Guthrie Theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Guthrie Theatre facebook page, Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) photos.
To Kill a Mockingbird is playing at The Guthrie Theater now through October 25, 2015. To see a complete list of cast and crew, please visit the Guthrie Theater website.
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Journaling Prompt: Who do you think is the intended audience for this story? Why do people keep coming back to it?