The Column Online



by Christopher Sergel
from the novel by Harper Lee
(will later transfer to the Dallas Theater Center)

Casa Manana

Director - Wendy Dann
Stage Manager - Leigh'Ann Andrews
Content Designer - Sarah Pickett
Costume Designer - Jennifer Ables
Lighting Designer - Brian Bembridge
Set Designer - Donna Marquet


Atticus Finch - Ira David Wood III
Scout - Morgan Richards
Bob Ewell - James Dybas
Judge Taylor/Walter Cunningham Sr. - Greg Dulcie
Tom Robinson - Akron Watson
Boo Radley - Van Quattro
Mrs. Dubose - Pam Dougherty
Heck Tate - Matthew Gray
Mr. Radley/Mr. Gilmer/Man/Man 2 - Bob Hess
Mayella/Helper - Anastasia Munoz
Dr. Reynolds/Clerk/Man/Idler - Bob Reed
Reverend Sykes - Akin Babatunde
Calpurnia - M. Denise Lee
Maudie Atkinson - Sally Vahle
Walter Cunningham/US Jem - Dawson Holder
Jem - David Allen Norton
Dill - Aidan Langford
US Dill/US Walter Cunningham - Cuatro Roman
US Scout - Hayley Lenamon

Reviewed Performance: 10/27/2011

Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The last time I stepped foot under the Casa Manana dome I must have been eight or nine years old. It was a production of what most people consider to be Song of the South (Disney's version), the stories about Brer Rabbit, his briar patch, the tar baby, Brer Fox and Brer Bear, and it was on a stage that was then in-the-round. I had vivid memories of that show from so many years ago, ones that put Casa on a pedestal when I thought of our local theatre scene here in DFW. How ironic that the theatre presented the same show this past spring.

Fast forward two decades later and Casa Manana is not the place I remember it to be. It's better.

Now in the second year back on their home turf after fourteen years of renovations, the Casa crew kicks off their 2011-2012 season with Harper Lee's coming-of-age classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is continually a force to be reckoned with in regard to its themes of innocence and courage, but even more so the aggressive themes of ignorance, prejudice and equality, and one man's fight against the status quo.

For those who need to brush up on their literature, the story follows Jem and Scout, siblings growing up in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Throughout the summer, with their friend Dill, the children are fascinated by and terrorize each other with rumors of Boo Radley, the town recluse.

Meanwhile, Jem and Scout's father Atticus Finch, a middle-aged lawyer, is assigned to defend a young black man who is accused of assaulting a white woman. Though the case is hopeless and incurs plenty of unwanted anxiety for him and his family, Finch's actions represent the small beginnings of the town's movement toward acceptance within their community.

Finally, it's through Scout's eyes that we see the people of Maycomb evolve and, simultaneously, we recognize her own gradual loss of innocence and increased awareness as she begins to see people for who they really are, both the good and bad. Heeding her father's advice, Scout learns to "walk in the other person's shoes", and she is taught to embrace and accept others for their differences.

Christopher Sergel's adaption to the stage is an intrepid rendering of the book in two very distinctive parts. Act I focuses solely on the children and their summer adventures pestering the mysterious Boo Radley and trying to curb their curiosity. Act II takes the audience into the Maycomb courthouse, witnessing the trial and aftermath of Tom Robinson, the man Finch is appointed to defend.

In terms of pacing, Act I feels disjointed in some scenes due to the quick transition from summer to summer. Act II holds more strength to it considering the extensive courtroom scene for Robinson's trial. The conglomeration of townspeople from different walks of life exemplifies the differences in people's prejudices toward each other based on race and social class. It's an unparalleled scene that is skillfully delivered by the cast of characters.

In the role of Atticus Finch, Ira David Wood III embodies the genteel protagonist in his physicality, voice and demeanor, and gives a commanding performance. Wood's onstage relationship with the younger cast members is endearing and his role as a protector over the children and his client Tom Robinson is instinctive rather than dramatized.

Wood's shining moment comes in his deliverance of the closing statement during the courtroom scene in Act II. A phenomenal speech, his plea to the jury is filled with passion and a contained rage for true justice to be served.

At the tender age of eleven, Morgan Richards plays Scout with an inquisitive and vibrant disposition. Richards knows how to commandeer the stage and is far from being swallowed up by the set or lost in the subject matter of the script. Though the weighty issues of the town fall on the shoulders of her father, Scout's reactions and her understanding of current events is important to convey to the audience, and Richards does a splendid job of portraying that aspect.

Rounding out the young cast of characters is David Allen Norton as Jem, Scout's older brother, and Aiden Langford as Dill, the sibling's mischievous summertime friend. Jem is unusually protective and supportive of his sister, and Norton fits the role perfectly.

Langford tends to attract the spotlight with a larger than life personality that shows onstage, but the character of Dill is exuberant and quirky enough to fit Langford's personality, proving to be a good casting decision.

The children, in general, look completely at home on the stage - more like an avant-garde playground they get to run around on every night. At times they are difficult to understand due to the dialect and a few rushed lines but regardless, they are professional, and aware of their surroundings and the mood within the production. It's a pleasure to see a fine group of young actors that are up and coming.

Among the long list of key players a few in particular stand out in this remarkable cast. M. Denise Lee gives a stellar performance as the Finch's housekeeper Calpurnia. An authoritative and mother figure for Jem and Scout, the character Cal stays under the radar for the majority of her time on stage but a few choice moments draws your attention to some serious talent Ms. Lee possesses. Her sorrowful refrain in the aftermath of Tom Robinson's trial is beautiful and haunting.

James Dybas and Anastasia Munoz as the father/daughter plaintiffs in the Robinson trial, Bob and Mayella Ewell, represent a completely different class of citizen. Their walk, their stance and rugged appearance immediately stereotype their social status as indigent residents in Maycomb. Both Dybas and Munoz are shrewd in their approach to the characters and are well disliked by the courtroom participants on stage and the audience.

In a brief appearance, Van Quattro as the allusive Boo Radley successfully disarms the audience as his character does Scout. After all the hype and mystery surrounding Boo's existence, Quattro comes onstage as a gentle giant and is easily embraced as one of the symbolical mockingbirds.

Donna Marquet's set design is nearly a blank slate aside from the rising set of steps and levels that pinnacle to stage right where a small rotating, curved wall serves as the Finch residence. A few mobile wooden fences are pieced around the stage and moved about by the townspeople to build or remove boundaries incorporated into a scene.

Outlining the set are two embellished trees fashioned by oversized, long flat panels that look more like a piece of artwork than part of the set, and the end result is impressive. Marquet's backdrop is blank as well and uses the lighting to affect changes on stage.

As lighting designer, Brian Bembridge uses his talent to the fullest and creates a picture-perfect scene in which the actors can work. His use of shadows and an unconventional but well-arranged drop of a physical lamplight show originality and an eye for transforming an empty stage into a dark-lit forest or sunrise on an open plain.

Jennifer Ables' costuming is rural and fitting for the period of the Great Depression, including a few staple pieces such as Scout's overalls or Judge Taylor's wig and cape.

The sound design by Sarah Pickett is superb, from the pre-recorded material to the ambience created by sounds of nature. Due to the dome structure of the building, the acoustics are impeccable and Casa somehow perfects the art of surround sound for live theatre.

An incredible cast and unforgettable production, orchestrated by Director Wendy Dann, To Kill a Mockingbird plays at Casa Ma?ana one final weekend before a three-week hiatus. For the first time ever the theatre has partnered with Dallas Center Theater, and the show will be up and running once more from October 21st-November 20th (with Jeremy Webb recently announced to star as Atticus Finch).

Casa Manana, 3101 West Lancaster Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76107
Through October 2nd, 2011

Also performing at Dallas Theater Center
Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora Street, Dallas,TX 75201
October 21st-November 20th

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00spm.

Ticket prices are $15-$45. For single tickets and info please call AT&T Performing Arts Center Box Of