Scout and Atticus, two main characters from Harper Lee’s bestseller To Kill a Mockingbird, look at race from different perspectives–young and mature–yet their views tell the same story of racial prejudice and justice denied for an innocent Black man in Alabama during the 1930s in the play of the same name, currently playing at Kansas City’s Jewish Community Center’s White Theatre through April 13.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” the stage play, opened last weekend to a sold out White Theatre on Saturday night, April 5 with a special talkback after the show with Mary Badham, Scout, from the 1962 movie that starred Gregory Peck in his Academy Award winning performance. Badham received a nomination from the movie, her first acting job, but did not go on to win as Best Supporting Actress. Badham, who travels and speaks about social injustice and the movie’s message, came to Kansas City for the opening weekend and spoke at the Saturday night and Sunday matinee to the delight of the audiences and cast members.
Ticket sales continued to come in and sell outs are expected for the final weekend of the show, Krista Blackwood, director of cultural arts for the JCC said. “To Kill a Mockingbird” only runs five performances.
Justice for a Black man accused of attacking a White woman just can’t happen in Maycomb, Alambama during the Depression. Just being accused is automatic guilt, no matter what the defense says or does. Such is the case in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A man is accused, jailed, tried and sentenced with no physical evidence. Such was justice in America in the South in the 1930s. The play, adapted by Christopher Sergel, makes injustice the focal point of the story.
With direction by Darren Sextro and lighting by Jayson Chandley, “To Kill a Mockingbird” used a minimalized set design, projected photos, and somber lighting to bring the story to life. The lack of cumbersome sets put a focus on the actors and characters rather than distract from their artistry. Sextro did an amazing job of conceiving and developing this production. Give Sextro heaps of credit for his casting as well. The stage overflowed with strong, solid performances.
The cast included: Jeannie Blau, Taylor Bottles, Rebecca Brungardt, Deborah Ground Buckner, Cam Burns, Greg Butell, Shawna Downing, Kate Haugan, Mike Haskin, Hunter Hawkins, Whittaker Hoar, Michael Juncker, Prisca Kendagor, Zach Lofland, David Martin, Caiel Noble, Michael Patton, Andy Penn, Marshall Rimann, Amanda Schneiders, Scott Slabotsky, Andy Tyhurst, Margaret Veglahn.
Special recognition goes to Butell as Atticus Finch and the two women who played Scout, Haugan as mature Scout and Veglahn as young Scout. They controlled and moved the action of the story. Butell was strong yet tender in his portrayal of Finch. His character did not mimic the famous Gregory Peck characterization, and Butell’s performance was subtle and understated. Haugan serves as the narrator and does not interact with the characters. She shows a strong stage presence and appropriate distance from the action as she tells her story in flashback. Veglahn, on the other hand, takes the character from Haugan’s narration and breathes life into Scout.
Next of note are the two other young thespians, Hoar as Jem and Burns as Dill. They bring the smiles and heart to the story with their bursts of limited defiance and schemes to draw Boo Radley from hiding.
The villain, Juncker, as the vile, vicious, drunken, scallywag Bob Ewell should elicit a loud “Boo” from the audience at curtain call–not because he’s a bad actor, but because he created such a horrific, yet believable, character. And, Amanda Schneiders as Mayella makes the audience feel for her as she tells her lies–or else face the wrath of her father at his next drunken rage.
Even more actors turned in precise performances because of their understanding of character and the direction of Sextro. The casting allowed the production to move fast and create memorable lessons from a cast with lots of acting experience.
The show takes the audience along as it weaves its magic from a simple piece to one of deep social injustice. The use of the children to see the show through their eyes and the adults to re-enact the show on an adult level creates a beautiful piece for the audience to experience.
Three performances remain. The show should not be missed. “To Kill a Mockingbird” has messages for all ages to learn and understand.
For more information, contact the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, 5801 West 115 Street, Overland Park, KS 66211, www.jcckc.org, phone: 913-327-8000, Fax: 913-327-8040.