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By Bridgette M. Redman
Rounding out a season of classics, What a Do Theatre opened “To Kill a Mockingbird” with all of its usual attention to technical detail, emotional strength, and strong acting.
With a large cast of more than 20 actors, rarely seen on professional stages outside of large budget musicals, director Randy Wolfe sets out to recreate the classic Harper Lee story with an adaptation by Christopher Sergel.
Joshua Olgine’s set is beautifully designed, creating a small town of front porches and homes with interior lighting (designed by Cory Kalkowski). These heavily flowered homes transformed easily into a courtroom with some quick set changes and reversible porches.
Teri Noaeill stood out as the neighbor Maudie, whose gentle narration and loving connection with the children helped the play end on a note of hope and enabled us to see why Atticus was willing to stay devoted to his neighbors even when things turned ugly. She was gentle and clear, bringing the audience along on this story’s journey.
Joe Dely’s Atticus was a gentleman and a man of true ethics and character. He is the type of hero that we long for in a world mesmerized by sarcasm and sass. He is the archetypical Good Man, and Dely has the vocal strength to pull this off. He is a man of passion when it comes to fairness and good treatment of others. Dely knows just how to pull off those controlled moments of passion so they are strong without being overdone.
Central to this telling of “To Kill a Mockingbird” are Atticus’ two children: Scout, played by Joan Wek, and Jem, played by Derek Whitesell. They are frequently joined by houseguest Dill Harris, played by Hunter King. These children add spark to the show and let us watch the events of the accusation and trial of Tom Robinson through innocent eyes. They ask the questions that the townspeople won’t, and understand things better than most of the adults, adding to the irony when Sarah Gillette’s Miss Stephanie haughtily assumes they don’t know what they saw.
Ryan Singleton’s Tom Robinson created well a man filled with fear and despair at the injustice being done to him. He was present in every moment of the court room scenes, listening intently to the testimony of others, and showing how careful he was to behave in a hostile world.
The ending of the play was a bit jarring and anachronistic. It felt too much like it was an add-on that didn’t fit with the rest of the show. Also, such care had been taken to set the play in 1935. The song that was sung is very much associated with the ’60s and wasn’t published until 1948 or recorded until 1950.
Together the ensemble was committed to the story telling and brought to life a world of a small Southern town steeped heavily in the depression and held back by petty hatreds and dangerous intolerance. They also managed to show that there are people who rise above such things, who are trying to do what is right, and who can change when they are shown fairness and kindness.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
What A Do Theatre, 4071 W. Dickman Road, Springfield. 8 p.m. May 8-10 & 16-17; and 3 p.m. May 10. $20. 269-282-1953. http://www.whatado.org