A couple months back I had the privilege to see The Book of Mormon live on Broadway, and just recently I was able to see To Kill A Mockingbird at Hollywood’s Pantages theater during a humanities field trip.
The play, written by the legendary Aaron Sorkin—writer and Oscar-winner for The Social Network, Moneyball, and the play and movie adaptation of A Few Good Men—covers the trial of the falsely convicted slave Tom Robinson, and chooses to have main characters Scout, Jem, and Dill recall the events of the play as the narrators of it, providing further commentary and transitions in moments that needed it.
This narration allows for the fragmented structure style to exist, patching the jumps in time with explanations from the three. In the novel the court scene was one continuous portion of the novel, but the play, in the interest of the reader’s enjoyment, supplements it with scenes that took place prior to the court session. The fragmentation was virtually a necessity as without it the court scene would have run for an hour and a half.
The court scene itself was incredibly engaging, with Atticus Finch, played by Emmy winning Richard Thomas, given additional dialogue and personality, while still faithful to the incredibly moral Atticus of the novel, with a die hard philosophy of being nice to everyone. There were some cases in which some of the actors made the scene a bit too melodramatic, namely Arianna Gayle Stuck’s Mayella Ewell, who quadrupled the energy of everyone else in the courtroom, which I found drawed me out of the play. But other than those few moments of over dramatic dialogue I was captivated.
The one questionable aspect of the play for me though was Scout’s (Melanie Moore) choice of accent. It was a faithful 1930s Alabama accent but it brought about a fairly large dilemma for me: is it better to be faithful to the content even if it distracts from the play and the message itself? In my opinion I think it would have been much better if Moore made the accent significantly less apparent and would allow the audience to focus more on her acting itself.
In some scenes Atticus is nearly-satirized by characters and in one scene Atticus breaks his strict moral code. Some students saw this as out of character for Atticus but I think it was necessary to the play and added some extra depth to the character. In the novel he is just a moral compass but here he has relationships with his family and takes vital actions. The fact that Atticus is not perfect adds to this depth.
One portion that didn’t add any depth, though, was the scene where Jem stomped all of Mrs. Dubose’s flowers. In the novel it is taught as an extremely important lesson for Jem, who learns about Mrs. Dubose’s momentous challenge she is trying to overcome, and Jem begins to have a relationship with Dubose after promising to read to her every day as an apology. Jem is gifted a camellia, the flower he destroyed, which represents that he learned to regret his actions. In the play, however, he just stomps the flowers and—due to the less amount of content you are able to put into a play—is told he should not do it because it is bad and that you should see it from her shoes. The play does not have enough time to drive home this point and so it falls short.
The camellia stomping scene felt unnecessary and could have been used to build up any of the main characters more, especially Boo Radley who definitely could have been used more to develop all of the main characters.
Going into the play I was not sure what to expect of the production, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the props and transitions were on par, or in some cases, better than The Book of Mormon‘s production and same with (most of the) the acting. Entire interiors were built up in seconds and enthralling and emotional speeches were given in nearly every scene.
I implore anyone that has the opportunity to see this play to do so, and if you would like a closer place to see it I am happy to tell you that, with the same cast, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa—from December 27th to the 8th of January—is going to be running the production.