When the lights finally came up on The Lyceum Stage and actors took their marks, the audience was instantly transported to Maycomb, Alabama, where residents are feeling the pain of the Great Depression and their moral characters are as varied and tempered as southern humidity.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" follows Scout and Jem Finch as their father, Atticus, defends a black man who's been charged with raping and beating a poverty-stricken white woman. In his Director's Notes, Quin Gresham said Lee's themes and storytelling "never fails to leave me both heartbroken and encouraged at the same time." And I believe that's a primary reason the story is so beloved.
Breathing life into the story was a cast that catapulted me from viewer to townsperson. I felt I knew each of the characters -- and perhaps we're all familiar with individuals such as these. Some thrive on the highs and lows of others' lives while others attempt to live up to higher standards.
And that juxtaposition creates the right amount of tension on stage.
Throughout the play, Warren Kelley as Atticus Finch easily presents himself as a man of reason. His children have the general freedom to make their own choices, but not without Atticus' words of wisdom. Along with friends, Atticus attempts to keep his children from exposure to the horrors of the world, but inevitably lets them see and understand the case he's working on.
Toward the end of the story, Kelley paces up and down stage, alone and crying as the circumstances begin to take a dramatic turn toward his family. This remarkable scene ending produces a wave of emotion that overtakes both the levelheaded lawyer and the audience. It is overwhelming.
Delaney Jo Sauer as Scout, Neil Cathro as Jem and Cole Walker as their friend Dill portray the young heroes with innocence and zest. Yvette Monique Clark as Calpurnia, Ashley Pankow as Stephanie Crawford, Tempe McGlaughlin as Mrs. Dubose, James Woodland as Judge Taylor and Walter Cunningham, Cris Davenport as Reverend Sykes, David Hemsley Caldwell as Boo Radley and Mr. Gilmer, and Rich Lawson as the court clerk round out the cast with natural, well-timed appeal.
Players seemed to perform with mind, body and soul. Their physicality brings another dimension to a play that has a lot of action happening off stage.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" presents topics such as race, family, innocence and justice. The town of Maycomb seems to slowly be growing in moral character just as the children come of age, which is apparent as Scout reminds one character of his individualism and Atticus' affect on the jury. This was one of the finest productions I've seen to date, and a must-see for any theatergoer.
The show runs through Saturday, Sept. 15, with shows at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased or reserved online at www.lyceumtheatre.org.
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