Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Also see Susan's recent review of The Bridges of Madison County
Washington's Kennedy Center has welcomed back the tour of To Kill a Mockingbird for a two-week stay in the Eisenhower Theatre, and it's as essential viewing as ever. Richard Thomas has only burnished his thoughtful and sensitive performance as Atticus Finch, joined by Maeve Moynihan as Scout, Atticus's precocious daughter and the audience's guide through the drama.
Playwright Aaron Sorkin has recontextualized Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, allowing Scout to move in and out of time as she attempts to make sense of incidents that occurred during her small-town Alabama childhood. Scout knows how she remembers the events, but she finds that the pieces of the story don't all fit together until she can see them through the perspective of age and experience. Bartlett Sher's direction seems straightforward enough, but he finds subtle ways to make the hidden layers of meaning come to life.
Thomas is immensely moving as Atticus, a small-town lawyer in the Jim Crow South who reluctantly takes on the defense of Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch), a Black laborer accused of assaulting a poor white woman. He is appropriately soft-spoken, determined to believe the best in everyone, convinced (rather naively) that the population of Maycomb, Alabama, will accept the indisputable facts of the case rather than being blinded by prejudice. Part of the actor's genius is showing how Atticus wants to keep his children from hating people with differing opinions, and his realization that tolerance has its limits when hate becomes violence.
Moynihan nimbly depicts both the childish Scout, getting into mischief with her older brother Jem (Justin Mark) and summer guest Dill (Steven Lee Johnson, hilarious in his loquaciousness), and the young woman making sense of events for which she had had no context.
Other standouts are Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson, a victim of the racial politics of the era and the community, trying to stand up for himself; Jacqueline Williams as the self-possessed Finch housekeeper Calpurnia, who takes Atticus to task when he allows his ideals to get in the way of accepting that some behavior is simply wrong; and Mary Badham (an Academy Award nominee for playing Scout in the 1962 film version of the story) as Atticus's difficult neighbor Mrs. Henry Dubose.
Miriam Buether has created a clever scenic design that allows furniture and other elements to appear as needed, shifting as Scout's recollections move from one setting to the next. Jennifer Tipton's lighting design helps clarify the changes in mood and setting.
To Kill a Mockingbird runs through August 27, 2023, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, visit tokillamockingbirdbroadway.com.
By Aaron Sorkin