Play fails to pull the emotional punches
The play version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” doesn’t deliver the emotional wallop that the novel succeeds in doing. The Northern Kentucky University Theatre and Dance Department presents Christopher Sergel’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” to playgoers. The problem with the production lies in the play itself and stage mechanics, not the performers.
This is a story about family, racism and law seen through the eyes of Scout. Scout, played by Kaleigh Howland, is the daughter of Atticus Finch. Played by Kieran Cronin, Atticus is the white lawyer chosen to defend Tom Robinson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman. Through the course of the play we see how Atticus’ choice to defend Robinson affects him and his family’s life.
Everyone involved in the show gave it their all. Cronin gave a wonderful performance as the morally upright Atticus. The actor brought a level of tenderness that was perfect for a role that needed to be firm but loving. Yunina Barbour-Payne played Calpurnia, Finches’ maid, with a perfect combination of sternness and loving care. The only disappointment was that the actress didn’t have a bigger part in the play. Nathan Tubbs gave a decidedly nasty and superb turn as the racist, foul-mouthed Bob Ewell, the father of the accuser. Howland brings a lot of fantastic energy to the role.
Maybe it was the task of translating a book to the stage, or the fact that most of the story is told from the perspective of child performers without microphones was what marred the production -- the reason remains to be seen. It certainly did not help matters when the audience strained to hear what the child performers were saying while delivering lines. This distraction gave the first act a slow pace and broke up moments that were meant to be dramatic and tense.
Some problems that arise from adapting the novel to a stage play are that a lot of wonderful details are left out or glossed over. For instance, the character of Boo Radley plays a much bigger role in the novel than in the play. In the stage production he comes off as merely a side story.
The narrator, Jean Louise Finch (the grown-up Scout), played by Sandra Forman, carries a book around with her during her performance. The book symbolizes the fact that this is her story. The prop was really unnecessary and cumbersome. As soon as the character tells the audience members that she is the grown-up version of Scout, they don’t need a book to remind them of the fact. It would have been more prudent and less distracting to take the prop out entirely instead focusing on Forman’s strength as a performer.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” gives audience members a lot of good performances but leaves us wanting more. The play runs from Dec. 2 through Dec. 12 at the Corbett Theater. Information about other NKU productions and show times can be accessed by calling the box office: 859-572-5464, or online: http://theatre.nku.edu/boxoffice.