Friday, July 3, 2015

Summertime Sensation: “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Theatricum Botanicum by M.R. Hunter

Summer is the season of Scout. In the "tired old town" of Maycomb, Alabama, a six-year old girl in overalls chases after her older brother Jem, while their widowed father Atticus Finch valiantly defends Tom Robinson, a black man charged with the rape of a young, white woman. On July 11, 1960, Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published, earning a Pulitzer Prize for its Southern Gothic style, and vivid characters caught in a slow boil of prejudices and racism. Two years later, a wider audience followed along with Scout in the film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Atticus. To this day, the acclaimed solo novel has never been out of print.

It's summer, 55 years after the initial publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird." On July, 14, 2015, Harper Lee's much-anticipated sequel will undoubtedly fly off the bookshelves by eager readers, following this time, an adult Scout returning to her small town to make peace with her childhood through the differing eyes of maturity and a country in the zenith of the civil rights movement.

This season, Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum brings the beloved characters of Scout (Lily Andrew) and Atticus (Richard Tyson) to the stage. It is only providence that this play adaptation happens to coincide with the timely publication of Ms. Lee's sequel as the play was selected before the release of this literary jaw-dropping news. It is also providence, (albeit a far uglier one), that our country is still very much divided on issues of race, justice and civil rights both mortally and ethically. Lee's novel was slightly ahead of its time, and may have contributed to the growing awareness in America regarding segregation, racism and the results of these...

It's impossible to watch Theatricum's "To Kill a Mockingbird" without the heavy burden of recent events, lending somber consideration to Atticus Finch's words boldly delivered by the stoic and solidly confident Richard Tyson, when he thoughtfully rails against the all-too-seeing eyes of injustice. All these decades and a half later and where are our Atticus Finch's? Where's Scout?

They, as well as the colorful residents of Maycomb are alive and well in the perfect setting of Topanga Canyon. The ever-chameleon Melora Marshall as Maudie, (along with her dog), portrays the wise yet ambivalent aged matriarch with the homespun sweetness of molasses and the spiked vinegar of moonshine. E. Bonnie Lewis as gossip-monger Miss Stephanie is the casts' comic relief. Earnestine Phillips never disappoints in any role, but her Calpurnia touches on the contradiction of her responsibilities as the Finch's housekeeper and her loyalties to a charming Reverend Sykes beautifully presented by Gerald C. Rivers. Thad Geer is hyper-realistic as the abusive Bob Ewell one can easily despise along with his timid daughter, Mayella, well-played by Claire Bryett Andrew. Ian Flanders is superb as the withdrawn Boo Radley. The ensemble nature of Theatricum proves it's got the right actors to fit almost any role.

Summer, so far has been downright brutal lately. One probably cannot imagine sitting outside in the recent sweltering heat and humidity to watch this play adaptation, regardless of this or other glowing reviews. And, yet, you should. The sticky and the sweat lend certain credibility to the overall milieu. From behind the trees, with bumblebees buzzing, and folks fanning their necks with programs, an authentic Southern charm resonates with this production before the play even begins. One can almost taste the lemonade; one can almost feel the rising tension in the afternoon sunlight, tanning a slightly older but more curious Scout as she swings from a rope.

This is "To Kill a Mockingbird" as close a facsimile as one could hope for in Los Angeles. It is not the film. It is not the novel. It is its own entity, with an Atticus Finch embodied by film actor Richard Tyson taking the role in subtle, nuanced manners and conviction that stems not from fury, ego or outrage, but the despondent hope of a man who believes in honor for all.

Here we are, July 3, 2015. Tomorrow is Independence Day. How much has really changed in terms of race, the judicial system and politics, hate and fear? Sadly, not much. Harper Lee has lived long enough to see her novel make a considerable impact, and there must be frustration on her part to know as her sequel is about to be released, there is so much more beyond Maycomb, Alabama that needs to be addressed with the bravery and forthrightness of Atticus.

Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum's "To Kill a Mockingbird" may be the most important show in their repertory season to see by virtue of its humanity and the parallels one can make in our current climes. There are truths, hard truths in between its lines, there is also mercy, respect and a loss of innocence in this that cannot be afforded in the face of so much hate and bias. In two weeks, Scout will have grown up…what that means, is yet unknown. Right now, Lily Andrew is a Scout we can all relate to as she asks why to questions still unanswered all these years later. Atticus Finch is still the best shot in Maycomb, and the best shot for Angelinos to see him onstage played by a man with respect to his own father, an attorney, in of all states…Alabama.

Take a trip up to Topanga Canyon this summer to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" and come home again to Maycomb, a town we all know because we still live there.

"To Kill a Mockingbird"
Runs through Sept. 27
Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum

1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA  90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
Tickets: $39.50-$10

1 comment:

  1. So much powerful work coming out of Theatricum this year. Bravo!