Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
To Kill A Mockingbird by Christopher Sergel, based on the book by Harper Lee, opened Thursday night at the Fenton Village Players with a strong performance.
To Kill A Mockingbird deals with the issue of racism in America. I would say the South, but why should the rest of the country be let off the hook? The “n” word is used throughout the play and is tough to stomach. The word carries such historical negativity that it will always be ugly. The play, which revolves around the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man, is set in 1935 in a small Alabama town. The case affects the entire town, and while the ending is predictable there is hope for change. We see the action through the eyes of a young girl named Scout whose father defends the black man.
The play gives the viewers a lot to think about, and it is good if you are shocked or upset by this in-depth look at racism in American. It is part of our heritage; not one to be proud of, but it is ours.
While To Kill A Mockingbird has been staged many times, it is refreshing to attend a quality performance. Overall the performance was very good. There were a few lighting problems although it could just be the system. The accents were a bit inconsistent, but it didn’t really detract from the show. The set was well done and conveyed the tenor and mood of the play.
This is a large cast and as an ensemble the director put together a good crew.
In the role of Scout, Makenna Kern gave a good performance considering the number of lines and the ever-changing action of the play. She could use a few more gestures because she seemed a little stiff at times. She had good chemistry with those she interacted with. Scout and the two boys were well matched. They came across as typical curious kids who stuck their nose into everything and everyone’s business.
Daniel Mays played Jeremy “Jem” Finch and he also gave a strong performance. He started strong and stayed that way. As Charles Baker Harris better known as “Dill”, Jacob Riley also performed well. The story he tells Scout about how he escaped was very well done.
Bart Burger played Atticus Finch and gave an excellent performance. He looks the part. He didn’t use much of an accent, but it didn’t matter. We don’t learn much about his history in the play, but he is a strong, principled man—and Burger played that perfectly. He had good chemistry with everyone on stage.
As Heck Tate, Jonathan Smith was well up to the task of being the sheriff. The final scene with Burger and Smith was performed superbly. Smith was strong when he had to be, and that played well in dealing with Burger’s Atticus.
Marwan Prince gave a very good portrayal of the Tom Robinson character. He exuded the angst and fear of being black in a white dominated world. He was consistent throughout.
Jerry Flewelling’s characterization of Bob Ewell was played to perfection. He was a scruffy mean, foul-mouthed, nasty lowlife, and he was believable. As Mayella Ewell, Grace Lee gave a fair performance. She gave the impression she wasn’t sure of the gravity of what was happening. Chris Vitarelli handled Mr. Gilmer well although his accent was inconsistent.
Playing Miss Maudie Atkinson, Kate Rundell did an excellent job as narrator and facilitator on stage. Also worthy of mention, Sheila Kern (Miss Stefanie), Christine Cook (Calpurnia), and Steve Shelton (Judge Taylor) all gave strong performances.
It takes a good cast to make a performance strong and Director Mary Powers can take credit for that. The action never lagged. The scene changes were good, but a tad noisy. There is no need to drag set pieces across the floor. The old rule still applies: Lift and set.
The audience gave them a sustained standing ovation and it was well earned. I highly recommend you go see this play.
To Kill A Mockingbird performances are April 14-17, & April 22-24 with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Performances at 7:00 pm and Sunday Performances are 2:00 pm. Fenton Village Playhouse is located at 14197 Torrey Rd. Fenton MI. 48430. For tickets call 810-759-7700 or go on their website at www.FentonTheatre.org, and the Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.