By Andy Propst on Mar 6, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
Strong performances from star Matthew Modine, playing small town lawyer Atticus Finch, spunky newcomer Olivia Scott as his daughter and Virginia Kull as a victim/instigator of trouble stand out and make the latest production of Christopher Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird at Hartford Stage worth a revisit to the story of racism and innocence in Depression–era Georgia.
Finch, of course, is appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Douglas Lyons), a black man accused of raping white Mayella Ewell (Kull). The townspeople, led by her father, Bob (Mike Boland), are ready to lynch Robinson, but Finch makes sure he gets a fair trial.
Within this highly charged atmosphere, Finch’s tomboy daughter Scout (Scott) and son Jem (Henry Hodges) team up with Dill Harris (Andrew Shipman) spend a summer visiting Dill's aunt and the three friends become terrified and intrigued by their recluse neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley, the subject of folklore in the town.
Just like the summer heat, nicely depicted in set designer Jeff Cowie’s painted panels rendering the town’s buildings and setting in hazy muted browns and yellows reflecting temperatures too hot for comfort, emotions flare as the various characters, young and old alike, discover the truth about judging someone too hastily and the need to protect innocence.
Under Michael Wilson’s direction, Modine slips comfortably into the skin of the better-off-than-most, but not proud Atticus, trying to do what’s best for Tom, the town and his family. Scott shines as the spitfire Scout and the other children are endearing as well. The outstanding performance of the night comes in Kull’s brief, but gripping scene as the woman who has accused Tom of rape. Her emotions are so tangible, we almost feel sorry for the deceitful, guilt-ridden Mayella, until Kull reaches in and shows us the true nature of the girl. The ensemble cast, costumed by David C. Woolard, is strong all around.
Helping move the action forward is narration from a now-grown Scout (Hallie Foote, illuminated in a spotlight by Rui Rita), who chats as she strolls through the town and remembers the incidents. Cowie’s multi-level set creates three distinct areas that can be adapted for different scenes with additions of props. A door flies in to represent a home; chairs are set up in front of table for the courthouse; leaves are scattered to create a wooded area. Somewhat out of place and distracting, however, are constant sound effects (John Gromada, original music and sound design) to enhance the voices of a crowd or to create the sounds of insects and other wildlife.
Lee’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel is being read by Connecticut school children as part of “The Big Read.” The students will attend performances at Hartford Stage, where they’ll learn a lesson that never grows old, about not judging someone too quickly.
---- Lauren Yarger
To Kill a Mockingbird plays at Hartford Stage (50 Church Street, Hartford) through Nov. 16. Performance times are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm and Friday and Saturday at 8 pm with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. Tickets are $23 - $70 with student and other discounted tickets available They may be purchased by calling 860-527-5151 or by visiting www.hartfordstage.org.
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