Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Arianna Gayle Stucki (Mayella Ewell), Richard Thomas (Atticus Finch), Stephen Elrod (Bailiff), Richard Poe (Judge Taylor), Greg Wood (Mr. Roscoe) and Joey Collins (Bob Ewell) in the touring production of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Julieta Cervantes / HANDOUT)

Early in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” young Scout Finch starts telling us about a courtroom. She looks upon the seat of justice in fictional Maycomb, Alabama, through a child’s eye, of course. But she does so with the reverence of a girl who will grow up lớn be a lawyer. She has been raised by her father Atticus to lớn see the court as a church or a chapel, an institution fully capable of fixing the injustices that transpire beyond its doors, a place of refuge, of stability, of hope, of equality under the law.

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Sitting there Wednesday night, the Supreme Court flashed into my mind, as it surely did elsewhere in the suitably hushed Nederlander Theatre. Whatever one’s politics, there is no questioning the diminished trust in the institution, both from without and (as Justice Clarence Thomas recently noted) within. Và by time frame, I don’t so much mean the years between now and 1960, when Lee’s famous work was published, but between now và 2018, when I reviewed director Bartlett Sher’s production on Broadway, và Wednesday when the first national tour arrived in Chicago, starring Richard Thomas.

Things unravel far faster than they get built.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a work people tend to know, & have seen. If you saw a staged version around Chicago, you almost certainly saw an adaptation by Christopher Sergel, a venerable text loyal to Lee’s vision. Sergel’s adaptation, published in Woodstock, Illinois, has been the script for countless high-school and community theater productions.

Sorkin’s version is something else entirely. He was hired by the producer Scott Rudin lớn make a version of the iconic novel more palatable to the present, to diminish its association with the so-called “white savior” narrative, an element of the novel that has the black citizens of Maycomb standing in the balcony as their nhân vật departs the courtroom, unsuccessful at that. Sorkin added agency for the đen characters in Lee’s story: specifically, he gave voice to the character of Tom Robinson (the excellent Yaegel T. Welch) và significantly changed the relationship between Atticus, the role made famous on film by Gregory Peck, & his domestic helper, Calpurnia (played on the tour by the formidable Chicago actress Jacqueline Williams, revealing to lớn the country a talent we long have known).

In Lee’s novel và the Sergel adaptation, they are in essence a surrogate brother và sister. In Sorkin’s adaptation, Calpurnia pushes back hard against one of Atticus’ chip core beliefs: that there is good in everyone and that a moral person always makes an attempt to empathize with those who seem hostile, lớn try and understand why they feel the way they do. Và that even includes racists lượt thích Bob Ewell (Joey Collins) và his daughter Mayella (Arianna Gayle Stucki, who dives mighty deep into an immensely challenging role).

Yaegel T. Welch (Tom Robinson), Stephen Elrod, Jacqueline Williams (Calpurnia) and Richard Thomas (Atticus Finch) in the touring production of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Julieta Cervantes / HANDOUT)

On a broader level, then, Sorkin turns “Mockingbird” away from a report card on an America making slow but discernible progress under the law & toward an exploration of a key rift between many progressives và what remains of the centrist left: the extent lớn which the opposition must be called out & destroyed as distinct from engaged và understood.

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Lee, of course, was tied both to lớn her time and memory. Sorkin’s restless writing changes her novel, of that there is no question, & inarguably undermines perhaps what mattered most lớn Lee, Atticus’ courageous heroism. But in so doing, he makes this work vital in terms of contemporary, left-of-center debate. Racism is not the only thing on trial in the courtroom. So is old-school liberalism with its oft-paternalistic insistence on bringing people along.

Thomas, by the way, is excellent. He’s entirely different from the original star, Jeff Daniels, who effected a weary remove, the sense of man battered by the failings of the people in whom he so badly wanted to believe. Thomas is not that actor: his Atticus remains optimistic, idealistic và more transparently naive. You can see his character being pulled between Lee & Sorkin’s different worldviews & it is fascinating khổng lồ watch.

Justin Mark (Jem Finch), Richard Thomas (Atticus Finch), Melanie Moore (Scout Finch) and Steven Lee Johnson (Dill Harris) in the touring production of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Julieta Cervantes / HANDOUT)

I think you should know that Sher’s production feels lượt thích an event. You’ll likely be moved to lớn tears in surprising places & the whole cast, really, imbues the night with a sense of wrestling with major American questions. Another change in this adaptation is that Dill Harris, beautifully played by Steven Lee Johnson, is pretty clearly a gay kid. You worry for him in the world where Jem Finch (Justin Mark) will be fine, but where Tom was treated so unjustly.

Melanie Moore is very powerful as the touring Scout, although I wish she’d find more quieter moments when her adult self, America’s adult self, emerges from this agonizing history khổng lồ find, well, perhaps more national pain than progress.

But people of all kinds still come together khổng lồ watch “To Kill a Mockingbird,” khổng lồ feel, to think, lớn wrestle with the past, to lớn try và define goodness so they can pass something on lớn their kids. Some want khổng lồ deconstruct; others are searching for a new version of the American center that Lee thought she had found in her Atticus. You’ll have to look for yourself.

Review: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

When: Through May 29

Where: Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Tickets: $35-$149 at 800-775-2000 và

Masks must be worn in the theater though proof of vaccination is no longer required for admission.

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