In 9th grade, Mrs. Cody assigned us To Kill A Mockingbird to read. Never had I studied a novel with this sort of depth. I’d never had a teacher as enthusiastic about the material as Mrs. Cody. I will always be grateful to her for introducing me to this, my favorite book of all time.
So, when I heard Aaron Sorkin had drafted a new script for the stage based on this classic, I was more than excited. I flirted with flying to NYC to see Jeff Daniels as “Atticus Finch” on Broadway but could never make it happen. But then it was announced as part of the Broadway Across America season at the Aronoff Center – and I knew I couldn’t miss it. I’ve never RSVP’d to a media invite faster in my life.
I wish every theatre in Cincinnati would sell out for every performance. I genuinely want people to enjoy the arts, sample everything the city has to offer, and continue to allow artists to make a living on the stage. So please see this show and make up your own mind.
For me, this is a problematic production. First, let’s start with the script. Atticus Finch is one of the most revered figures in American literature; he does not need “an edge.” Atticus is so interesting on the page because he is “meek” – but by choice. Early in the play, Jem reminds us of this. But Richard Thomas does not play him that way, nor is he written that way in this script.
I realize that the book, again my favorite novel, is somewhat problematic in 2022 because it is a white-centric story about race. I am reckoning with my whiteness; I think there is an opportunity for this story to be told from a different perspective. So why not have Calpurnia narrate? If you’re going to reimagine this classic story, let’s go big or go home. Instead, it’s a mess.
Bob Ewell’s expanded role makes him too much of a cartoon villain. There’s not enough Boo Radley exposition for me. Where’s Miss Maudie? Where’s the scene with the rabid dog? And why is Atticus so angry in court but so wishy-washy outside of it?
I was angry when people leaving the theatre said, “I’d forgotten that part of the story,” about things that ARE NOT PART OF THE STORY! I’m fearful that this will be a new generation’s first exposure to the material – and it’s not a good representation of the book.
I know that critics are not supposed to write and direct from their reviews. But indulge me for just a minute. Or skip this paragraph if you choose. If this were my show, I’d have retitled it “Atticus,” and I would have tried to explore his motivations, liberal rage, and relationship with Calpurnia specifically. But instead, this script straddles the line of trying to be true to the original story while at the same time trying to make Atticus into something that he wasn’t.
For me, it fails on so many levels. I also hated the cumbersome set. What on earth is up with those stairs? I thought the courtroom scene was way too angry. Can someone please remind the director that there are many more interesting things on stage than anger? And “anger” doesn’t have to mean “yelling over one another?” And what’s up with some of the accents?
I hope you will buy a ticket and judge for yourself. My friend loved the show. The audience around us was having a blast. Someone noted that there “is a lot more humor than in the book.” Dill, Jem, and Scout had great interplay and fantastic chemistry. Mrs. Dubose, played by Mary Baham (who played “Scout” in the film at age10), was phenomenal in her all-too-brief role. There are good things – and it is “To Kill A Mockingbird” after all. I just was hoping for something different, I guess.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Aaron Sorkin runs through June 12th at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati. For tickets and more information, click here.