By Harper Lee
Dramatized by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Hallie Gordon
Produced by Steppenwolf for Young Adults
At Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre
Powerful look at rural Southern America’s institutional racism
Once again, Steppenwolf For Young Adults series (designed for middle school and high schoolers) has produced another gem of a show as director Hallie Gordon has cast a winning team that respects and understands Harper Lee’s 1960 novel – To Kill a Mockingbird.
Collette Pollard’s imaginative set depicts a fictional rural Alabama town in 1935 during the Great Depression. The first act of Mockingbird aptly depicts the quaint slow moving lifestyle of Southern America. Act two has the trial and the aftermath that changes the Finch family forever.
Lee combines the narrator’s voice of a child observing her surroundings with a grown woman’s reflecting on her childhood, using the ambiguity of this voice combined with the narrative technique of flashback to tell the story. Carolyn Defrin deftly narrates with loads of help from fifth grader Caroline Heffernan who smartly plays the innocence of childhood as Scout Finch Lee’s alter-ego from her childhood. Seldom have I seen a fifth grader with the acting chops and ability to not only deliver her lines but to have spot on timing to convey humor and pathos. Caroline Heffernan is a dynamite talent.
Mockingbird deftly uses the point of view of innocent children to depict the contradictions and hypocrisy of racism. Scout’s older brother (age fourteen) effectively played by Bubba Weiler (a high school senior) and their friend Dill (Zachary Keller) see the racial turmoil first hand as Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus Finch ( a strong subdued performance by Philip R.Smith) defends a Negro charged with raping a white girl.
Atticus, the lawyer, becomes the kids hero as he stand for justice, integrity and fair play in a world steeped in ignorance and racism. Atticus has taught his children to be fair minded so they see the trial as a mockery of justice. Director Hallie Gordon uses Christopher Sergel’s dramatization of Lee’s novel most effectively to both present the atmosphere of rural life and the deep seeded racial prejudice present in America. This coming of age story vividly depicts injustice and tolerance. It serves as a powerful experience that young adults will relate to. The production values shine with players such as Larry Neumann, Jr. and Phillip R. Smith and the outstanding young talents bring to life Lee’s watershed novel. Hopefully, Steppenwolf will fill the house with students to witness a moving piece of theatre.
At Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $20 (students $15), public performances Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, Tuesdays – Fridays at 10 am for school groups only, running time is 1 hour. 50 minutes with intermission.