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Powerful stage version of 'Mockingbird'

March 05, 2011|By James Famera

By now, many of us have read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racial tensions in the Depression-era South. Some of us have even seen the 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. But how many of us have ever seen a stage version?

Can it be done, you ask, given the novel’s various locations? Oddly enough, since the early 1990s a play based on the novel has been performed every year in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Ala. So yes, it can be done, and can currently be seen at the Glendale Centre Theatre, which is running one very faithful, moving stage adaptation.

Maycomb, Ala., is the setting, and early on we meet the tomboyish Scout and her brother Jem. Scout is prone to mischief, and dares her brother and his friend Dill to touch the house of their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley. Of course Dill is hesitant in doing it but still does, probably because he doesn't want to look fearful in front of Scout. She already called him “puny” after their initial meeting, and although she’s a girl, it would seem that Scout’s toughness and charm has made her the group’s leader.

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The three child actors playing the roles, Camille Gibney as Scout, Liam Johnson as Jem and Carter Thomas as Dill, had a wonderful chemistry onstage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all best friends in real life. They could be serious when necessary, as in the second-act trial scene when they all quietly watched Atticus question Tom Robinson, his only witness and defendant.

With dumbfounded looks on their faces, they appeared as children who were listening to testimony that was probably too adult for them. But they could also be playful as well, like when they ran around the porch carefree, refusing to go in the house when a mad dog is loose on their block. Whereas a lot of the credit goes to the child actors, a director like Diedra Celeste Miranda, who can elicit such authentic performances from three child actors, deserves far more accolades.

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