The Column Online


By Christopher Sergal, Based on the novel by Harper Lee

Garland Civic Theatre

Directed by Peter Ray
Scenery Design by Joseph Cummings
Costume Design by Ryan Matthieu Smith
Light Design by Catherine Montgomery
Stage Managed by Rebekah Reed
Carpentry done by Donna Covington
Artistic Director Kyle McClaran
Properties Managed by Emily Hunt
Sound Design by Peter Ray & Jodie Kopaniky
Light Board Operated by Jeff Medley
Back Stage Crew - Cindy He & Robert Long


ATTICUS FINCH - Gregory Hullet
SCOUT FINCH - Cate Stuart
JEM FINCH - Nathan May
"DILL" HARRIS" - Griffin Wetzel
CALPURNIA - Marilyn Twyman
MISS STEPHANIE CRAWFORD - Christine Stinson-Wetzel
MRS. DuBOSE - Celeste Rogers
BOB EWELL - Gregory Phillips
MAYELLA EWELL - Rachel Granville
HECK TATE - Dennis West
JUDGE TAYLOR - Tony Carpenter
TOM ROBINSON - Darron "D" Dean

Reviewed Performance: 3/11/2011

Reviewed by Sten-Erik Armitage, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Few novels hold the place in the American psyche like the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee wrote this piece in 1960. It is loosely auto-biographical, based on events that happened in her hometown when she was only 10 years old.

Lee's only novel, it somehow presents a heartwarming and inspiring story set against a backdrop of rape, racism, corruption, and violence. I remember the profound impact this novel had on me when I read it as a young teenager. When I later saw the movie starring Gregory Peck, I was captivated once again.

When I was given the opportunity to review the stage production as adapted by Christopher Sergal, I jumped at the opportunity! All-in-all the stage adaptation stayed true to the book with some minor changes. For example, the novel was narrated by our 6-year-old observer, Scout. In the stage production, the well-intentioned neighbor Miss Maudie Atkinson handled the duty of narrator. This is completely understandable, and a good decision by Mr. Sergal.

I hesitate to offer a synopsis of this American classic, as I would much rather have you immerse yourself in the pages of this amazing novel so that you might delight in the world of Harper Lee's 1935 Maycomb, Alabama. But for the sake of clarity in the review, I offer a brief overview below.

We are thrown into the world of the Deep South in the midst of the Great Depression. Our unlikely hero in this play is the young Scout Finch who lives with her older brother Jem, and her widower father Atticus. Atticus is an attorney in town known for his fairness, kindness, and integrity in the court room. Scout and Jem befriend a young boy nicknamed "Dill" who ends up living with them for the summer. The three kids are fascinated by the reclusive and mysterious "Boo" Radley who lives next-door. Their summer is full of mischievous encounters as they dare one another to knock on the door or even set foot on his grass. There is also the issue of mysterious presents that appear in the knot-hole of the Radley tree?

Things take an ugly turn when Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus agrees, and despite the town's objections and condemnation, Atticus protects and defends Tom Robinson to the best of his ability. As a result, the kids see their father insulted and attacked by former friends and neighbors.

To find out what happens to Tom Robinson, Atticus, and the kids, you will either need to pick up the book or head to Garland Civic Theatre to discover for yourself! It will be well worth the journey. This is one of those rare novels that everyone must read.

Now we turn our attention to the Garland Civic Theatre's rendition of this classic tale. To start, I was immediately impressed by the work done by Joseph Cummings and Donna Covington in their creation of a simple yet compelling set. They created the perfect small town street for us to watch events unfold. Their cleverness in creating a moving set piece that rotated and transformed our neighborhood of patios and porches into a court of law was impressive, to say the least. Well done!

Throughout the evening, I saw some opening night jitters. Lines forgotten during a monologue, some stepping over other actor's cues, etc. ? but these minor glitches are sure to be ironed out quickly. Miss Maudie Atkinson (Jayne Anderson) did a great job as our narrator and guide throughout the evening despite the occasional lost line. She handled the transitions between engaging in dialogue with the rest of the cast and the occasional aside directed at the audience with ease.

In a show where you depend so heavily on children to carry the production, you are never sure what you are going to get. Our three young stars did an admirable job delivering their lines. The glitches I mentioned above belonged primarily to the adults in the production. I was impressed by how Scout (Cate Stuart), Jem (Nathan May), and "Dill" (Griffin Wetzel) managed to keep up with the large amount of lines they had to memorize and deliver. Griffin Wetzel really shone when he first hit the stage in the first scene. He played his part perfectly. Precocious, funny, and expressive, he had the audience smiling.

Mr. DuBose (Celeste Rogers) was delightful. Although her stage time was all too brief, Ms. Rogers nailed her character and delivery. I found myself longing for more engagement with the crotchety old neighbor and her mischievous neighbors.

Unfortunately, these moments of brilliance were not sustained throughout the evening. Often the dialogue between characters felt forced or contrived. Particularly in the first act, I felt as though I had to fight to follow the dialogue and dramatic flow of the play due to mechanistic line delivery.

Rather than dwell too long on the negative, I would like to commend the backbone of the evening. Gregory Hullett played Atticus Finch admirably. Mr. Hullett understood his character, the tension of the situation, and the difficulty he faced as a single father and an attorney taking an unpopular stance. Throughout the evening, he was the bright spot. His lines were delivered with credibility and appropriate passion for the moment. When other players were in dialogue with Mr. Hullett, they became that much more credible.

There were some uncomfortable music cues throughout the evening. I'm not certain if they were intentional or if there were some technical issues, but they often seemed poorly placed or executed. For example, there was a moment of spooky music as the kids approached the Radley place for the first time ? very awkward. Another example happened during the opening of the second scene in Act Two. Music was playing as they were making the necessary set change. The music then cut cold, mid-lyric, as Miss Maudie came out to set-up the next scene for us. Again, these may be opening night glitches that will be ironed out quickly.

Catherine Montgomery did a good job controlling the stage with her light design, with one notable exception. She had the doorway to Boo Radley's house spotted with a green light. Unfortunately, whenever a member of the cast delivered lines from that location they had a sickly, unnatural hue. At first I thought this was intentional in order to draw attention to the almost other worldliness of Boo Radley's place. But this lighting continued into the second scene when we were looking at the main street and jailhouse. Not the best lighting decision. Other than that one exception, the lighting contributed to the flow of the evening.

One final note on the first act ? there was a powerful scene where Scout (Cate Stuart) talked down an angry mob intent on harming her father and lynching Tom Robinson. The idea in the novel (and the play) would be that she caused the angry mob to place themselves in her father's shoes, ultimately standing down and going home. Sadly, Ms. Stuart was unable to convincingly deliver these lines. I don't think the young actress fully understood the import of the situation in which Scout found herself. She delivered the lines accurately, and with emotion, but I don't think with the right emotion. It seemed wrong for the situation. I am sure, with some coaching and instruction as to the sub-text of this story, she will grow as an actress and do this wonderfully ? but it fell short on Friday night.

Act Two was much stronger. The cast came began to shine, and the story came to life. Bob Ewell (Gregory Phillips) was amazing. He was the consummate villain. Whenever he was on the stage, he embodied the drunken, bitter viper that Bob Ewell represented. Seldom have I seen someone manifest the appearance of deep hatred and repressed violence so consistently. Even when the spotlight was on other characters, Mr. Phillips maintained his character in body language and facial expression.

Kudos also go out to Mayella Ewell (Rachel Granville) for her convincing portrayal of the "victim" of this horrible crime. She too was consistently believable. Another strong performance came from the defendant, Tom Robinson (Darron "D" Dean). Like Mr. Phillips, Mr. Dean acted compellingly without saying a word. Throughout the trial his body language communicated volumes. His moment in the stand was emotive and powerful. I could feel, along with him, the intense fear he felt as an innocent black man being tried in a white man's courtroom.

Our State's Attorney Mr. Gilmer (Charles Maxham) also played his part quite well. Of the three roles that Mr. Maxham played that evening, his role as the prosecuting attorney was the most convincing and powerful.

The young "Dill" (Griffin Wetzel) struggled in the second act. His strength was in comic acting ? the second act called upon him to experience and express powerful emotions of fear and sadness. He wasn't able to do this with the same level of credibility as he did the humorous moments in the first act.

Again, Gregory Hullett's portrayal of Atticus Finch was masterful. His interaction with the witnesses was beautifully done. He caused the other actors to rise up to his level when he was interacting with him. Mr. Hullett shone brightest during his closing argument. It was a powerful speech, and it was delivered powerfully.

My biggest complaint in the second act was how a moment, that could have been exceptionally powerful, was brushed over. If you recall the book (or the movie), there is a moment when Atticus is left alone in the courtroom, packing up his materials. Up in the balcony, the black folk stand up in silence, paying him tribute. As Atticus leaves the empty courtroom, Sister Sykes (Reverend Sykes in the book) says, "Scout, stand up. Your father's passing." This moment is the most poignant moment in the book and the film. It is the moment when we see the impact Atticus Finch has had. He stood up for a wrongly accused black man. As he walks out of the courtroom, the black men and women stand up for him. Sadly, in this production the line was said, but quickly rushed past (even stepped on) by the next lines from the kids as they embraced their father. Although Peter Ray attempted to create a touching moment with the father embracing the children, I think he missed out on a far greater moment of impact by rushing past that line.

Bottom line ? should you make the trip to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Garland Civic Theatre? Yes ? but with a caveat. Only go if you have already fallen in love with the novel and you know the story. This earnest company did an admirable job of attempting to capture the power of this story, but ultimately fell short.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Garland Civic Theatre

Presented at the Granville Arts Center, 5th & Austin, Garland,Tx
Plays through April 2nd

Thursday, March 17th at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays, March 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th and April 1st and 2nd Sundays, March 20th, 27th and April 2nd at 2:30 PM

Tickets are $20. For information, call 972-485-8884 and to purchase tickets, call 972-205-2790.