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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Theater Review - To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
Adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel
Based on the novel by Harper Lee
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, March 20, 2pm

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' production of To Kill a Mockingbird ended its nearly sold out run a few weeks ago so this review cannot convince you to either attend or skip the show.  With that in mind, however, director Sanford Robbins' staging of Christopher Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's iconic book was a lovely two-and-a-half hour piece of theater filled with some stellar performances and a refreshingly large ensemble that breathed new life into the REP's core group of resident performers.

Photos by Paul Cerro / The REP

Although I'd certainly read the novel a long time ago, I really didn't remember anything more than a general overview of the storyline of To Kill a Mockingbird -- and, quite frankly, there really isn't anything more than a "general overview" of a storyline in the play to begin with.  To Kill a Mockingbird isn't so much a play concerned with "plot" -- although the courtroom saga of the falsely accused African American Tom Robinson certainly hangs over the proceedings prior to its taking center stage in the second act -- but moreso about notions of the innocence of youth and the necessity of growing up and seeing things for the way they really are.  We witness the entirety of the story through the eyes of three children -- Jem and Scout Finch (Luke Brotherhood and Evangeline Heflin) and Dill (Carter Weiss) -- and through the eyes of a grown-up Scout (REP member Kathleen Pirkl Tague) as she narrates the tale and reminisces about her time in 1935 Maycomb, Alabama.  What started as a summer like any other turned into a months-long journey into the sorrowful way human beings can treat one another.

At the center of To Kill a Mockingbird is Atticus Finch, the strong, smart, and steadfast lawyer and father to Jem and Scout, played with equal parts authority and compassion by Stephen Pelinski in one of his finest roles to date.  Firmly grounding the tale with his character's morals, yet never coming off as preachy, Pelinski is extremely graceful and endearing in his scenes with his children, but also powerfully persuasive and passionate during his courtroom moments.

Ultimately, though, To Kill a Mockingbird is an ensemble piece and the entire cast really comes together to create an atmosphere that brings the audience into the simplistic and homespun charm exuding from the stage.  The trio of young actors the REP chose to play the youths in the production hardly ever leave the stage, yet they prove themselves more than capable of carrying a show of this magnitude.  Particular kudos to ten year-old sixth grader Carter Weiss who's already been in several shows in the area and garnered quite a few of the play's laughs.  Proving again that the REP is missing out on training the next generation of talent, two former members of the most recent class of the now-defunct UD Professional Theater Training Program make their return to the REP stage with gusto.  Jasmine Bracey takes on the sassy maid Calpurnia and Sara Griffin is fascinatingly riveting as accuser Mayella Ewell.  Griffin, in particular, has proven her talent in past REP productions and in her very short scene in this play, she mesmerizingly petrifies the audience with her character's horrific motivations.

With lovely, spot-on set and costume design by Takeshi Kata and Devon Painter, respectively, and live music under the direction of Ryan Touhey, director Sanford Robbins truly succeeds in transporting us back in time to the South of the 1930s.  This is certainly up there with the better REP productions the company has produced, but it's got some tough competition with winter's Wait Until Dark for the top spot of this year's season -- and, of course, there's still two more eagerly anticipated shows to go.

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