Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s moving story still had the power to make me cry, in spite of the poor quality of some of the acting in this stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel, performed by the Montana Repertory Theatre Sunday at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College.

The weakest link was Mikel MacDonald as Atticus Finch, the white southern lawyer and widowed father of two young children who defends a young black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1935 rural Alabama. Director Greg Johnson cast this crucial role with someone who at best sounds as if he’s doing a first read-though. The actor who played Judge Taylor (Jackson Palmer) also was weak, and the effect of these two ineffective performances reduced the whole production to an amateur level, which is a shame because some elements did shine.

Luckily Scout (Marie Fahlgren), Addicus’s tomboyish daughter through whose eyes we see the story, is good, as are her older brother, Jem (Jennifer Fleming-Lovely), and Dill (Heather Schmidt), a little boy visiting relatives in the neighborhood. The strongest performance is by Robert Karma Robinson (in photo) as Tom Robinson, the accused man.

Scenic designer Bill Raoul’s sets, coupled with Mark Dean’s lighting, shift easily and believably from front yard, to jail house to courtroom.

Montana Rep’s production celebrates the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel’s 50th anniversary. The play is good and deserves better performers, especially since it’s hard to watch and not be reminded of the beautiful 1962 movie, with its Oscar-winning screenplay by Horton Foote. Gregory Peck, one of my all-time favorite actors, won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus. The film, which had been nominated for eight Academy Awards, also won for best art direction.
Established in 1967, Montana Rep has become a widely recognized touring company.  The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts’s presentations explore both the classical traditions and the boldest contemporary performances -- embracing the world culture that defines Brooklyn -- and boasts one of the largest arts education programs in the borough, serving schoolchildren from more than 225 schools annually.

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