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A superb “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Proctors

Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Julieta Cervantes
Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

It’s a difficult task to make a person understand the racial divide that has affected the United States since its founding without beating the obvious to death.

Perhaps the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” comes closest to showing the inequities of justice between the races in such a way that it does not come across as pedantic.

All the more reason to appreciate the stage production of the classic story which is at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday.

It’s a spectacular presentation that is marvelously performed. This is a spellbinding tale of important, human issues depicting the lack of equal justice between whites and blacks in the United States.

It would be fashionable to call the theme timely. Unfortunately, it’s more accurate to think of it as timeless.

The original book by Harper Lee was written in the 1960’s and set in 1934. Sadly, many racial issues in the play have not changed since the Civil War.

There are some story-telling changes in this stage adaption by Aaron Sorkin. On stage, the play starts with the trial and fills in the back-story during the course of the trial.

The children in the story are played by young adult actors. Melanie Moore is a feisty and confident Scout, Justin Mark as Jem is a loyal son who comes world-wise during the experience and Steven Lee Johnson is a precocious Dill. The three act as narrators and add much needed comic relief to the presentation.

This effective, dramatic device saves the presentation from a lot of early exposition.

Richard Thomas is no less than perfect in finding the dignity that resides in Atticus Finch. He starts as reluctant defender for Tom Robinson (a wonderful Yaegel T. Welch) a black man accused of raping a white woman.

He knows the bigotry that exists in the town but Atticus believes because Robinson is so obviously innocent, he will be acquitted.

As the trial continues, his confidence ebbs as it becomes more and more obvious that racism will trump justice and Robinson will be found guilty. Sadly he

becomes more aware of the poisonous hate that infects his town and his country.

Thomas is an incredibly subtle actor, which gives Atticus enormous range of emotions to play. He masters them all to become the heroic, and eventually, realistic character the world admires.

Indeed, his goodness is on display mostly though his interaction with others in the cast. It is important to notice that this is not only a play about a brave man, it’s a play about a community.

And the people of the community are portrayed superbly.

To mention a few in the huge cast. Jaqueline Williams brings dignity and wisdom to Calpurnia, the Finch’s black housekeeper. Luke Smith is masterful as Horace Gilmer the prosecutor who belittles Robinson and plays to the worst impulses of the jury.

The legendary Richard Poe is the fair-minded judge who finds humor in the role without losing the respect for his authority. Joey Collins is despicable as Bob Ewell. My regrets to all who are not mentioned, as all performed without flaw.

Director Bartlett Sher (who also directed the gorgeous “My Fair Lady” which recently toured Proctors) keeps a solid dramatic pace which adds depth to the material without making the production seem too slow.

He combines with scenic designer Miriam Buther and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton to create a fluid performing space which Sher uses to form dramatic stage images.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the finest productions to play Proctors in recent years. See it if you can. It plays through Sunday. For tickets and schedule call 518-346-6204 or go to proctors.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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