VALDOSTA — PLAY REVIEW
A special thing can happen while watching Theatre Guild Valdosta’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” ... if you let it.
You can forget the famed movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and enjoy the Guild production as it allows the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved and familiar novel to unfold.
That’s a tall order, but the Guild’s cast, crew and production team are up to the task.
Josh Robertson comfortably plays the role of Atticus Finch, a white Southern lawyer compelled to defend a wrongly accused black man in a small, segregated, Depression-era Southern town. Robertson does what is expected of the character — he presents a patient, stoic, compassionate and wise Atticus. Robertson plays this character with great strength and conviction but he also reveals a few stress fractures making Atticus all the more human. Robertson plays Atticus with smooth subtlety. He never seems to be acting but rather Robertson inhabits the role.
Maggie Tarpley is another marvel. The fifth-grader plays Scout, Atticus’ tom-boyish daughter. She brings Scout to vivid life on The Dosta Playhouse stage. She plays her young character with all of the characteristics one would expect, but as an actress, Maggie Tarpley may well be wise beyond her years as she seems to understand the nuances of the action surrounding her character. Remember, Harper Lee was an adult writing from the viewpoint of a child. Maggie Tarpley gives a remarkable performance.
So do many others in this drama.
To translate the story from book to stage, playwright Christopher Sergel uses Finch neighbor Maudie Atkinson as a narrator who addresses the audiences between several scenes; Lynnette Kenworthy has directed and worked back stage in several Guild productions; she makes a memorable acting debut as Maudie.
Sommers Coleman plays Jem Finch with righteous vitality, a boy who can’t initially understand why his father, Atticus, does the things he does, but who comes to understand his father while losing a grip on understanding the fairness of the world.
Each performance from the principal players to the supporting cast to the extras brings a facet of authenticity to this play. They are helped by great costume choices and a dually aesthetic and practical set design by Grant Brown and John Mitchell. The lighting is also noteworthy, especially in the climactic scene of the children’s walk home from a fall festival.
Show director Patti Cook does so many things right with the Guild’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She creates a slice of life. She lets this play breathe. She allows some scenes to resemble live clips of the movie while allowing other scenes to develop a distinct personality of their own.
She wisely does not curb the show’s language. Some audience members may be offended by the repeated use of the N-word but its usage reflects not only the era but part of the conditional obstacles faced by the town’s black community and the white man who dares defend one of its members. Hearing the word, especially said by children, is like a slap in the face, which is why its usage is so important here.
Patti Cook deserves as much applause and cheers as the show’s principals receive at curtain call.
This review is based on the Sunday, Dec. 8, performance.
At A Glance: Theatre Guild Valdosta’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” continues 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Dec. 12-14, The Dosta Playhouse, 122 N. Ashley St. Reservations, more information: Call (229) 24-STAGE; or visit www.theatreguildvaldosta.com