by Shirley Lorraine
Classic clicks at Conejo
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has come to life on the Conejo Players stage. It was required reading for me in high school and made a lasting impression. The story tackles many aspects of humanity including innocence, fear, prejudice, assumptions and racial inequality. It is as relevant today as ever.
Now playing at the Shubert Theater on Broadway, the play is enjoying a revival across the nation. Conejo’s contribution to the revival is noteworthy, engrossing and thought-provoking.
Set in Alabama in the 1930’s, the play centers around the accusation, trial and conviction of a young black man. He is represented in court by Atticus Finch, a local attorney known for his compassion, dedication and fierce determination to see justice applied fairly. Sadly, he knows going in that he probably will not be victorious. The townspeople rally against him, threatening his family, their mob mentality leading the way.
Finch does all he can to protect his two children, Scout (modeled after Lee’s own childhood) and Jem. The children become acutely aware of the wrongs being done and question the proceedings.
Veteran director Tom Eubanks makes his debut with this season opener, doing so in fine style. The setting is a street scene that transforms into the courtroom and back again.
Experience shows in this capable cast. Leading the way as Atticus Finch is Alan Waserman, who portrays the inner strength and fortitude necessary to weather the negativity that surrounds him. Daughter Scout is ably played by Julia Kirkpatrick, paired with Neirin Winter as son Jeb. Both display comfortable stage presence. My one challenge to them is to project more fully so that all their lines can be heard. In the first scene that sets up the entire play, the underscoring music, while lovely and meaningful, tended to overshadow their soft voices.
Turning in a notable performance is Todd Tickner as Bob Ewell, the father of the supposed victim. Tickner seems to revel in the scummy character.
James Miller becomes Heck Tate, the local sheriff, sympathetic to Finch but also aware of the reality of the era and neighborhood feelings. A grown-up version of Scout (Jean Louise) played by Ronna Jones, adds clarifying narration and insights as the play unfolds. Other solid characterizations are presented by Dale Alpert as the Judge, Sharyn Grose as Calpurnia, the children’s nanny, Melanie Lindgren as Stephanie Crawford, and Rita McCaffrey as Mrs. Dubose.
The cast is excellent overall, each giving full measure to their characters. The experience shows, even in the smallest parts.
To Kill a Mockingbird withstands the test of time in terms of ongoing relevance and continues to make an important statement. Yes, there are a few outdated, prejudicial terms used, as was common at the time. In this case they are key to the plot.
This revival will surely spur discussions and retrospection into our outlooks on justice. Go see it if you can.
To Kill a Mockingbird continues through February 9. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. www.conejoplayers.org or 805-495-3715 for tickets. Adults $20, Students, Seniors and Military $18.