“To Kill a Mockingbird” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – December 7, 2022


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Dramatizing Harper Lee’s sprawling and moving 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is no easy task.  The 1962 now classic movie version was vibrant but a stage version has remained elusive.  Since 1990, a mediocre and unauthorized adaptation by Christopher Sergel has played schools and community theaters.  In 2019 Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation took Broadway by storm. It was a vehicle for Jeff Daniels who triumphed as Atticus Finch, the small-town Maycomb, Alabama lawyer chosen in 1934 to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man wrongly accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a White woman.

The touring production of this insightful look at racial injustice stars Richard Thomas, known for his Emmy Award-winning performance in “The Waltons.”  Thomas has grown triumphantly as a consummate actor.  He delivers a great Atticus that rivals Gregory Peck’s movie performance. Thomas shows his distrust of the town’s justice as he displays his hate of his client’s treatment.

Thomas shifts easily to the insightful sensitivity he uses to raise his two children and his understanding of Calpurnia, the family’s Black maid who helps Finch guide his children to respect racial diversity.  It is a memorable performance something rarely seen in a touring Broadway production.

Finch believes Robinson’s innocence but fairness has no place in this bigoted community where justice is slanted against Robinson and his race no matter how eloquently or convincingly Finch defends the man’s innocence.  The trial prompts Finch’s children, Scout and Jem, to question the unfair and the unjust views as they eloquently learn about discrimination and hypocrisy with the added input of a neighbor’s child visitor, Dill Harris.  Most neighbors around Finch further reveal the town’s notorious biases and unfairness.  The play is a penetrating look at rural Southern societal racism.  Sorkin’s sharp script has dazzlingly conceived the vibrant and terrifying look at uninhibited intolerance.

Along with Thomas’ masterful performance, Finch’s children are also executed perfectly by Melanie Moore as Scout and Justin Mark as Jem plus Steven Lee Johnson as the pair’s friend Dill.  It is too bad that these children’s parts are played by adult actors.  Strong performances also shine from Jacqueline Williams as the doubting Calpurnia and Richard Poe as Judge Taylor who tries to conduct a civilized trial.  In the huge cast there is not a performance that doesn’t excel.

The one inescapable problem is ASU Gammage’s always problematic sound which makes too much of the brilliant dialogue unintelligible.  This stellar “To Kill a Mockingbird” production continues through Sunday, December 11 at ASU Gammage.  If available, tickets may be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 480-965-2022 or ordering tickets online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Grade: A