Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite novels. As an English teacher, I look forward to sharing this novel with my students every year. It is because of my love of this iconic novel that I avoided Christopher Sergel’s adaptation for the stage. Not that I thought his version would be bad – it’s just that I love this novel so much. I could not imagine how someone could turn 31 chapters of brilliant narration into dialogue and stage directions that could possibly maintain the integrity of the original story. I know there is a movie version, a good one at that. However, a stage production is different than a film. There are things you can do in a film that can’t be done on the stage. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was to review Wilmington Drama League’s production of Sergel’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. There was a moment when I thought, “Oh, I will just try to pass this one off on one of my fellow reviewers.” Then, I thought of one of the most famous lines from the novel when Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I decided to model that sentiment; I would let the Wilmington Drama League walk me around Sergel’s adaptation and see it from his and their point of view. I was glad I did!
As I entered the theater, I was taken aback by the magnificent set that graced the stage. It looked so much like I imagined Maycomb (the setting of the novel/play) to be, a southern town where everyone knows everyone’s business and looks out for each other. A place where children play outside until dusk, making up games, like the “Boo Radley Game.” A place where you want to raise your children. A place where “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” Pete Worth’s set design is brilliant. Ok, things were looking pretty good. I thought, “I can do this.”
From the opening of the show with Kat Pigliacampi’s narration, I was hooked. Pigliacampi’s stage presence is magnificent. She commands the audience right from the start with brilliant narration that brings to life the beautiful language with which Harper Lee’s novel drips. She was the perfect choice to play Jean Louise (the grown up Scout), taking the audience back in time to weave a story so poignant, so real, so important. She envelopes the audience and takes us on an historical journey that just keeps getting better and better.
The whole cast is simply brilliant. From little Scout played by Molly Evanko to Mrs. Dubose’s Nurse played by LaChelle Newton-Pierce, the characters are played with precision. Each actor portrays Harper Lee’s characters with accuracy and purpose. One of the most intense moments is when Mayella Ewell is on the stand during Tom Robinson’s trial. Ewell is played by Jenna Glaizer amazingly. Glaizer creates a character you love to hate, just like Harper Lee intended. Atticus Finch’s famous speech in Lee’s novel is delivered impeccably by Cam Hay. Hay fills Atticus’ shoes so perfectly. Every time I read this novel, I can picture every scene. Hay did not let me down. It is just like I’ve played it in my mind so many times.
Speaking of the courtroom scene, I must again return to the brilliantly designed set by Pete Worth. At the end of the Act I, the set makes a magnificent change from the town to the courtroom so gracefully, I wanted to stand and applaud when it changed before our eyes.
Such wonderful direction by Allyson Sands Good (who obviously knows this story well) could not have been any tighter. Spectacular casting choices, a striking set, and lighting that shaped the mood so impressively brought one of my favorite novels to life on the Wilmington Drama League’s stage.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” It’s also a sin to miss this show. Community theaters don’t do one thing but make performances for us to enjoy. They don’t do it for the money (they’re all volunteers). They don’t do it for fame, they don’t do one thing but perform their hearts out for us. The Wilmington Drama League proved that with their production of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
The Wilmington Drama League’s production of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD runs through November 2nd.
Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Allyson Sands Good
October 24 – November 2, 2014
Wilmington Drama League
10 W Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE 19802