Carlsbad, CA---. “I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.” “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 and was set in the 30’s during the Great Depression. It won the Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American Literature.
At that time the American Dream was more and more of a challenge because of the depression and as a result it was common for the underdog to become the target of all that ailed society. It was also common practice to trust the word of someone white over the word of someone of color. That was and unfortunately is, the way of the world.
Lee was born in 1926, Monroeville, Alabama. There is no doubt that she was a woman way ahead of her time; consider the many quotes that come from her novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird” that are still relevant today. Imagine, if we had a few more Harper Lee’s in our in local, state, federal and Supreme Court positions how different, say the voting rights of minorities might look? Imagine what it would look like for everyone to be treated with equality and not be judged by skin color?
Luckily Maycomb, Alabama, the fictitious setting of Lee’s novel, adapted to the stage by Christopher Sergel now in a fine production at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad through May 4th, had as one of its upstanding citizens and prominent lawyer, the soft-spoken Atticus Finch (Manny Fernandes). His moral compass is big enough to make up for all the bigots, Klan’s Men and ethically deprived citizens in that county who thought nothing of making scape goats of their less fortunate neighbors.
Made into a film in 1962 it starred the towering Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch the hero of Lee’s book. It won three Oscars including one for Peck for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. It is the coming of age story for the Finch children, Scout (Katelyn Katz), her brother Jem (Dylan Nalbandian) and their friend Dill (Matthew Mohler) who comes to live with his aunt Rachel. It takes place over the course of three summers. It’s 1935 and Scout is almost nine and Jem is twelve. The story is told through Scout’s eyes as her older self (Kristianne Kurner).
The story starts out rather typical as youngsters being youngsters. They chase after each other, get into mischief by creating scary stories about their neighbor Boo Radley (Justin Lang) who is somewhat of a recluse, (“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it”), play, go to school, get reprimanded by busybody neighbors, argue with each other, worry their housekeeper, Calpurnia (Yolanda Franklin) and pretty much act like kids having fun and with no worries save annoying Boo. The one constant in their lives is the love, dedication, honesty and gentleness of their father.
Beneath the surface however something more important and monumental is about to change the face of Maycomb. Atticus is appointed to defend the Negro, Tom Robinson who is wrongly accused of raping a white girl. The whole town is up in arms about Atticus defending a black man, as is Scout, as she doesn’t understand the anger of her neighbors. (“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.)
New Village Arts has winner on its hands with Manny Fernandes as the patient, soft-spoken Finch. His every movement, inflection and caring tone exude love and tolerance, depth and conviction. His mannerisms when he reprimands is soft spoken and loving, his tone when addressing Tim’s accuser, Mayella Ewell (Lauren King) shows respect even though he knows she is lying to save herself. He has certainly outdone himself as Atticus, a role particularly suited for Fernandes’ disposition and stature.
Kristianne Kurner directs as well as taking on the role of the elder Jean Louise Finch (Scout) narrating and being an onlooker. Yolanda Franklin is fine as Calpurnia. Jim Winkler and Eric Poppick are the sheriff and prosecutor in that order. Durwood Murray is credible as Tom Robinson, the wrongfully accused black man (who really never stood a chance of being acquitted) and David Macy-Beckwith makes a fine and fair judge.
The three children, Katelyn Katz, Dylan Nalbandian and Matthew Mohler all looked the part and over all convinced but often times were difficult to understand, as was Ms. Franklin.
Mary Larson’s period costumes are just right. Tim Wallace’s set design works well on NVA long stage with the two story Finch house on one side and Boo’s half boarded house (also used as the courthouse during the trial) with a large tree in front on the other with lots of room for the fifteen of so characters to easily come and go in between. Sherrice Kelly’s lighting design along with Bill Bradbury’s sound and original music design complete a perfect picture of the rural south in the 1930’s.
“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Even after you’ve read the book and seen the movie it would be a shame not to see this play at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. “To kill A Mockingbird” is one of those stories that inspires and motivates. While it doesn’t hit you over the head to make a point, the multi-layered messages resonate throughout. Hopefully you will see similarities between then and now and be damn angry, enough to do something about it.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through May 4th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA.
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$39.00