‘Mockingbird’: A lesson in tolerating intolerance

 

When Harper Lee wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller

To Kill A Mockingbird,

her editor said it wouldn’t sell more than a few thousand
copies. It sold more than 30 million, is translated into 40
different languages and has never been out of print. Fifty years
later, the endearing story is still as current as the day it was
published.
When Harper Lee wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller “To Kill A Mockingbird,” her editor said it wouldn’t sell more than a few thousand copies. It sold more than 30 million, is translated into 40 different languages and has never been out of print. Fifty years later, the endearing story is still as current as the day it was published.

There is a clear lesson. The lesson should not have to be taught, but it seems it needs to be brought to the attention of those who need to understand that all of the human race deserves respect, equality and dignity. As in the well-put lyrics of the song in “South Pacific”, “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” (to hate).

The seeds of discrimination and bigotry are alive and well in pockets all over the world, and the bitter bile that comes from ignorance and hate is still taught. It creates an atmosphere that destroys people and then must eventually destroy itself.

These issues are addressed in the adaptation by Christopher Sergel in TheatreWorks’ production of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The plot is simple and tells the story of children being enlightened to the complication of racism, and at the same time made to realize that intolerance and contempt comes from ignorance, prejudice, fear and injustice.

The story is set in 1935 in sleepy, rural Maycomb, Ala., during the Great Depression. Scout, (Sierra Stephens) is the 9-year-old tomboy daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch (an understated, fine performance by Anthony Newfield), who is defending a black man (Philipe D. Preston) falsely accused of raping white woman Mayella Ewell (superbly handled by Blyth Foster). Scout’s older brother Jem (Eric Colvin) and their friend Dill (Gabriel Hoffman) are trying to grasp the situation of what is going on in their innocent lives. The strong second act takes place in the Alabama courtroom where Atticus sincerely and intelligently handles the unpopular (with most of the townspeople) defense of the case.

Scout is based on Harper Lee’s own childhood and Dill, her friend, is based on Truman Capote, who was a childhood friend in Maycomb, Ala. She has not published anything other than a few essays since “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee, who had withdrawn from public life in 1964, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

Andrea Bechert’s set depicting a street in a small, southern town is flawless. Lighting by Steven B. Mannshrdt captures the hot, sweaty, summer days of the South.

Director Robert Kelly guides this pristine cast through this sensitive journey with his usual gentle perfection.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is celebrating its 50th birthday and is giving us the gift of a beautiful rendition of a classic that theatre lovers should not miss.

***

‘To Kill A Mockingbird”

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

Through: May 9

Tickets: $24-$62

Details: (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org

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