Last seen at Stratford in 2007 (cross-reference below) director Nigel Shawn Willams’ retelling of Harper Lee’s groundbreaking novel (still using Christopher Sergel’s deft dramatization) was a mixed bag of excellence and despair.
The cast is first rate with elder Jean Louise Finch (Irene Poole) and her younger incarnation, Scout (Carla Poppy Kushnir) admirably leading the audience to the now-and-then storytelling of a 1935 trial in Maycomb, Alabama where the entire audience is asked to become members of the jury.
The accused is black labourer and family man Tom Robinson (a wonderfully understated performance from Matthew Brown, sprinkled with just enough moments of heat to be totally believable). His accusers are the repugnant, ignorant father-daughter team of Bob Ewell (Randy Hughson weaving in a Deliverance-like take in his characterization) and 19-year-old Mayella (Jonelle Gunderson) who is so economical with the truth that she actually believes her own lies. Taking on the hopeless case (when has black triumphed over white in this era and region?) is the epitome of “turn the other cheek”, Atticus Finch, who has a worthy advocate in Jonathan Goad’s honestly straightforward delivery (the widower’s children are the aforementioned Jean Louise/Scout and older brother, Jem—Jacob Skiba). Keeping the Finch house going is Calpurnia (Sophia Walker in fine form on a number of levels) who has no problem working for the most honest white man in town.
Trying to uphold the law are the sheriff, Heck Tate (a well-balanced rendering from Tim Campbell—notably his last utterances), the state attorney (Horace Gilmer’s petulant demeaning tone is entirely convincing in Tim Campbell’s hands) and the judge (none better than Joseph Ziegler to keep the emotions in check even as the facts are few and far between).
And special mention to Marion Adler’s bitterly succinct portrayal of the “old bag” Mrs. Dubose, whose caustic mouth—like so many with devils to fight, witness Mary in this week’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, cross-reference below) brought shudders to anyone within hearing distance.
Williams opts to keep the pace moving steadily forward and his talented production staff support his quiet vision (the words speaking for themselves) from the simple utility of Denyse Karn’s set, the stop-on-a-dime lighting conjured up by Michelle Ramsay and composer Alessandro Juliani’s musical offerings where the Andrew Engerer’s banjo is always welcome.
Sadly, frustratingly, maddeningly, when the curtain falls and the bodies have been buried (literally or metaphorically), there is a truly awful feeling of despair with the knowledge that far, far too often Harper’s injustices are still repeating themselves, carried out by those charged with protecting the rest of us from harm. JWR