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Friday, January 30, 2009

Mockingbird sings a powerful song


Most couples with kids can define their lives in two parts: BC and AC -- before children and after children. In our BC life, Mike and I did lots of cool cultural things, like going to the theater (the kind where the floor is not sticky with spilled pop). Tonight we had a BC date and went to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT).

After we picked up our tickets at Will Call in the IRT's new lobby, we checked our coats (and Mike's ever present Indiana Jones hat) before being led to our third row left seats. Mike had gone to see the show on Thursday with Annie's class and sat on the right side of the house, so he was glad for the different perspective.

I perused the progam to refresh my memory about the plot and to see if any of the actors have appeared on "Law and Order" -- (yes, two of them). I read To Kill a Mockingbird in my freshman honors English class in high school. But considering that was 24 years ago, I didn't remember much -- except going to the Marianists' house, where our teacher Brother Jim Brooks lived, to watch the black and white film version of the novel. Even so, all I remember of that night was that Jay Flynn used the old "I'm just reaching for the popcorn" trick to put his arm around me. Guess the swooning erased the memories of the storyline from my mind even all these years later.

Quentin Toetz as Jem, Tessa Buzzetti as Scout,
and Joseph J. Mervis as Dill (left to right)
Credit: Julie Curry

Set in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s, much of the first act involves the Finch children -- Jean Louise, known as Scout, and her older brother Jem, as well as tagalong kid Dill. There is talk among the children, the Finch's black housekeeper/nanny Calpurnia, and their white neighbor Miss Maudie first about Boo Radley, the mysterious recluse who lives nearby, and then about the fact that Atticus Finch (the children's father) is representing a black man -- Tom Robinson -- falsely accused of raping a young white teenager.

A handful of tertiary characters -- Sheriff Heck Tate, grouchy ailing neighbor Mr. Dubose, Gladys Kravitz-like Miss Stephanie, the stuttering Mr. Cunningham -- all add layers and color to the story.

Probably due to the difference between greenhorned actors and seasoned actors (it felt a bit as though Scout should have been called "Shout"), it wasn't until mid-way through the first act when Atticus made a more lengthy appearance that I forgot I was watching a play and began to lose myself in the story which includes themes of prejudice, race, poverty and justice.

Melissa Fenton as Mayella Ewell, Mark Goetzinger as Atticus Finch,
and Jonathan Tremaine as Tom Robinson
Credit: Julie Curry

In the second act, which opens in the courtroom where Tom Robinson is on trial for his life, I found myself leaning forward, searching for some foreshadowing of the outcome (though my knowledge of American history should have led me to it sooner). I think I must have fallen asleep during that movie at the Marianists' house in Dayton because I really didn't remember what happened next.

And I will not tell you here what does happen, because I think you should do one of three things.

First, go see the play. If you live within reasonable driving distance of the Indiana Repertory Theater, you have 15 more opportunities to see the play there. It is such a great venue -- small enough that the actors don't even need to wear those annoying mini mikes taped to their foreheads, but professional in every sense of the word. Except that there are not kiosks at which people are hawking overpriced souvenirs to theater-goers who can't live without a t-shirt or some other trinket to remind them of their experience.

Second, if making it to the IRT is unlikely for you, watch for it at a theater near you. Sure you can rent the movie, but it won't hold a candle to live theater.

After the play was over, Mike and I stayed for a post-show discussion with the actors. Many of the audience's questions were directed toward the young actors who, other than exhibiting some typical young actor affectations, did a better-than-respectable job in their stage roles. There was also some honest and enlightening interchange with some of the older folks, especially Jonathan Tremaine who played the accused Tom Robinson. If you have a chance to stay for the post-show discussion, do.

My final recommendation, read the book. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee will be packed in my carry-on bag next week when I leave for a much anticipated vacation with my sister. I'll likely be highlighting quotes I'd wish I'd written, like:

"One thing does not abide by majority rule -- your conscience."

"We've given him the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right."

"Courage is knowing you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway."

and the one I'm going to use on my kids when they say "Everybody is doing (whatever it is they want to do and I don't want them to)..."

"Everybody less one."

Harper Lee was 34 years old when To Kill a Mockingbird was published. She has never published another book and lives in relative seclusion. Maybe she is waiting for society to embrace the lessons put forth in her Pulitzer Prize winning first effort. If so, thank goodness for the IRT and other theater companies around the country who continue to give voice to her message.


Eternal Lizdom said...

As much as I love theatre, I'd recommend reading the book first and then seeing the play if you get the chance.

It's a powerful story that carries from generation to generation. Which I guess is what makes it a classic, right?

Amy said...

@Liz -- Read fast. TKAM closes at IRT on February 21.

Joanie said...

I'm not sure I've ever read the book, although I must have. It's standard reading in most high schools. I've seen parts of the movie but never the entire film. We have the book here (3 kids have gone through high school), so I think it's going on my to-be-read list.

Jeanne said...

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of my favorite "classics."
Recently my reluctant reader son, 16 yrs. old, chose to read it for his Honors English class. He loved it and actually found himself unable to put it down. The joy that filled my heart!!! Such great characters and lessons lie within this little gem of a novel! Glad you enjoyed the theatrical performance! Read it - you'll love it!!!!

Nate's Mom said...

I love To Kill A Mockingbird. I might have to pull it out and re-read it. I love a good grown up date. Our last was to see Phantom of the Opera. Not so educational, but I love the theater.

Sheri in CA

Mike Magan said...

Great post Ame! I loved this play and I loved going with you.

Nate's Mom said...

Amy ~ You have an award on my blog!

Sheri in CA

Micah and Emily said...

I have read this book several times and find additional wisdom each and every time I do....I saw that it was playing at IRT and was jealous that Micah and I didn't live closer! But I will settle for the movie version any day with my all time favorite actor Gregory Peck!