Review: To Kill A Mockingbird @ the Park Square Theater

Carter Haaland

 

Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of those loveable, timeless tales that our great grandchildren will probably still be required to read—blah, blah, blah.  Yeah, it’s really good.

Over fifty years after its publication, the novel’s social commentary still translates and remains a powerful critique of race relations—blah, blah, blah.  Yeah, it’s still relevant.

Director David Mann’s production at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul is quite respectful of the original book and justifiably so.  Mann understands that Lee didn’t write the novel for it to be performed on stage.  He doesn’t try to morph the tale into a dramatic piece tailored for the viewing pleasure of the audience, nor does he try and move the spotlight from the story to an awe-inspiring performance by any one of the actors.  Rather the emphasis is right where it should be—on telling the story as it was written.

The tale is told by the young stars of the performance: Elizabeth McCormick (Scout), Emma Wondra (Jem), and Jasper Herman (Dill).  It’s always risky using children as the main narrators of a plot but these young blossoms display acting maturity far beyond what their ages imply.  The plot is also occasionally moved forward by Heather Stone (an older version of Scout) looking back on the events of her youth.

We all know that Gregory Peck’s 1962 film portrayal of Atticus Finch will probably never be outdone, but Fred Wagner steps in Atticus’ shoes comfortably and does him justice.  He manages to convey that his heroic and honest sentiments are not come by easily.  Atticus does struggle.  He portrays the difficulty of raising his children with integrity in a society with such uneasy race relations.  His performance in the courtroom is the highlight.  His voice is commanding and his presence naturally captures the eyes and minds of the audience.  All this leads up to his closing argument which crescendos on stage with the same “bang” that it does in the book.

A literal-oriented retelling of a book might suggest a dry, passive performance but Mann’s production defies this assumption.  The plot rolls along steadily and the characters, as you love them in the book, are brought to life for your eyes to now fall in love with.  Hurry up, it’s running now through April 17th.  Tickets range from $36-$56.  For more information go to www.parksquaretheatre.org or call 651-291-7005.

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