Even after reviewing hundreds of shows, I’ve never critiqued a near sold-out show right at its opening. Eventide Theatre Company, the little theater that can, was one of a dozen playhouses around the country lucky enough to be given the performance rights to Aaron Sorkin’s new, currently running Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”—hence, all the hype and fast ticket sales; the entire run was sold out by opening weekend.
The play’s storyline is unchanged—with Tom Robinson (Jessie Tolbert), a black man wrongly accused of raping Mayella Ewell (Julia DiPreta), a poor white girl in depression-era Maycomb, Ala., and the idealistic country lawyer Atticus Finch, who puts everything on the line to save him. What's changed is that Sorkin gives more of a voice to the two black characters, while the story revolves around the many courtroom scenes woven throughout the non-linear timeline.
Under Steve Ross’ deft direction, it is obvious from the start that “To Kill a Mockingbird” looms so large in our collective American consciousness it is hard to contain that energy in the opening courtroom scene—especially on Eventide’s small stage—but at the same time, the intimacy makes the scene gratifyingly palpable. When the audience is directly addressed as the jury, the space becomes expansive, with the fourth wall broken and the weight of the pending judgment looming large.
The gripping and emotionally charged drama is narrated by Atticus’ grown children— the precocious tomboy Scout (Rebecca Riley) and her protective big brother Jem (Patrick O’Rourke), along with their quirky friend Dill (Ari Lew). The adult trio effectively play their characters’ younger selves, masterfully vacillating between innocent children and their reflective adult roles, while also bringing a touch of comic relief to this intense drama.
Dressed in a symbolic off-white three-piece suit (costumes by Amy Canaday), Stephen Rourke portrays a dignified Atticus. Known for sayings like “There’s fundamental goodness in all of us,” Atticus struggles demonstrably with his moral convictions when his proud black housekeeper Calpurnia (Pamela Gill) challenges his black-and-white beliefs.
Ricky Bourgeois plays a mean and relentless Bob Ewell, the drunken father who directs his abuse at Mayella, while insisting Tom Robinson is the guilty party. Ewell’s white supremacistviews are in direct contrast to Link Deas’ (Chuck Gifford), who married a woman of color and is the lone, vocal civil rights activist. As much as America has a long way to go with racial equity, Atticus’ line to Tom about the jury being “not so much of your peers,” points to improvements today.
Guy Trudeau’s set design hints at weather-worn buildings with minimalist pieces, like a few bars in a window, representing the jail.
One can debate whether or not this American classic should have been adapted through the lens of the 21st century, but there is no denying that the deeper understanding of racial inequalities we have today brings a different perspective to Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, whether through an updated adaptation or not.
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
At Eventide Theatre Company, 713 Route 6A, Dennis
Through Nov. 23
Information and reservations: 508-398-8588