Wednesday, April 23, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird at Albuquerque Little Theatre

Collaborating to bring an American classic to life, Mother Road Theatre Company and Albuquerque Little Theatre present "To Kill a Mockingbird," and if it's been a while since you've visited Maycomb, Alabama (7th grade English class' required reading?), now is the perfect chance. Set in 1935, the economic, social and moral challenges of the time and place come to life through the memories of Jean Louise Finch, called Scout as a child.

Narrating the show is the grownup Jean Louise, played by Julia Thudium, whose recollections allow us to visit the past as she and her older brother Jem were raised by their widower father and his black maid Calpurnia in this small Southern town. Thudium recalls the happenings of her hometown, giving us glimpses of the woman that the child later evolved into, due in part to the events such as the summer of 1935. Mackenzie Jarrell, as Scout, and Traeton Pucket, as Jem -- along with their friend Dill, played by Logan Smith -- exceed the expectations typical of child actors, delivering powerful performances that are central to the action of the tale, while Thudium brings Jean Louise's emotional evolution to life with tremendous heartfelt honesty.

Their father, and perhaps the most moral man of Maycomb, is the lawyer Atticus Finch, expertly played by Christopher Atwood. Atwood, balancing the conscientious character of Atticus against the turbulent times of his town, creates a man whose principles necessitate the choices he feels must be made, even when it means going against the opinions of his fellow town locals. Scout is quite certain her father "doesn't do anything," but throughout the play she finds surprises along the way as to Atticus' true character. When asked about the Tom Robinson case, where Atticus defends a black man against the charge of raping a white woman, Atticus responds, "Every lawyer gets one case in his life that affects him personally. This is mine."

The story stands so strongly that to have such a mutually talented cast allows the emotions of the play to rise to the surface. A dramatic work such as this showcases so many of the talented actors -- Yvonne Mangrum as Calpurnia, Amy Bourque as Mayella Ewell, Bridget Kelly as Miss Maudie -- even when their appearances are cursory. Through these townspeople, including the cameo of the reclusive, mentally incompetent Boo Radley (Morse Bicknell) and the accused black man Tom Robinson (Hakim Bellamy), Lee illustrates the prejudices and cruelty of mankind, as well as the quiet voice of conscience that can also prevail when not drowned out by the noise of an angry mob.

The disease of misanthropic behavior can become virulent as we see it infect Maycomb before, during and after the Robinson trial. Bellamy as Tom Robinson shines as the portrait of an innocent man who knows he very well may yet pay for a crime he didn't commit. His command of the dialect and ability to believably embody Tom was impressive. And, giving one of the best mean drunks I've ever seen, Vic Browder plays Bob Ewell, the villain of the tale, and catalyst to much of the town's chaotic behavior. Even Boo, who is momentary, is haunting and leaves a strong impression, bespeaking of Bicknell's tremendous acting abilities to embody a character so elusive, and in so brief a moment.

Larger themes emerge from Lee's work, most notably the concept of individual merit versus mob mentality, whether it be an actual mob or even a jury of one's "peers." That a man or woman can become so compromised to their own basic character when goaded into doing so by a crowd is the shaming fact of human existence, and one which holds our salvation as well. As individuals, such as Atticus, Miss Maudie, and later Jean Louise, we are encouraged to ask questions of the status quo, to find our voice and in doing so, to stand our ground while seeking to change the injustices of our world. The goal is lofty, but the means are humble, a lesson that is as applicable in today's times as it was in the Depression-era South.

By the end of the evening the audience was on their feet congratulating the cast on a superb performance. To become a part of this classic yourself, you can visit or for tickets and more information on showtimes, playing currently until April 27th.

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