The late Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” has always been a beautifully rendered story of morality, courage and maturation. In her book set in 1935 Alabama, where segregation was an entrenched norm and Jim Crow laws simple facts of life, Lee placed racial relations center stage amid a flawed justice system and a sensitive young girl’s coming of age.
Published in 1960, the book and its successful movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, have had shares of criticism along the way to becoming much-loved institutions. Considered daring for its depiction of racial discrimination in the Deep South, the book has also been condemned for the stereotypical portrayals of its black characters, contrasted with the heroic paternalistic portraits of its white lead characters.
The new Sacramento Theatre Company production of Christopher Sergel’s lean stage adaptation of the novel delivers much of the story’s gripping humanity, though it also feels confined and stilted at times.
“Mockingbird” endures because of the hard truths it tells and the difficult but universal lessons learned. We are also inspired by the heart and soul of the central characters, the adult Jean Louise (Megan Pearl Smith), her younger self, called Scout (Fiona Gillogly), and of course, her quiet philosophical father, Atticus (Sam Misner).
Here director Buddy Butler’s production effectively engages its audience through the fine, gentle performances of the veterans Misner and Smith, and the cheeky composure of Gillogly. (The role is double cast; Vivian White also plays the role at selected performances.) Misner and Smith, an acclaimed Americana duo, add a subtle grounding musical element. Smith’s adult Jean Louise narrates the events of particularly eventful summer and fall when her attorney father has been assigned to defend black laborer Tom Robinson (the excellent Tarig Elsiddig) who has been accused of molesting a young white woman.
Lee stakes out a necessary sense of place for the dusty rural Alabama town. The town is the whole world for Scout, her older brother, Jem, and their cousin Dill. Included therein is the dark, shuttered Radley house at the end of their street, which engenders endless fascination for the three curious kids. What the production does not realize, though, is the expansiveness of the children’s imaginations or Scout’s naive poeticism, which mythologizes the mysterious Radley house and her cryptic experiences around it.
The lead characters hit the emotional notes of this familiar American story even in a production that feels constrained and stiffly literal.
To Kill a Mockingbird
What: Sacramento Theatre Company production with Sam Misner, Megan Pearl Smith, Atim Udoffia, Tarig Elsiddig, Owen Larson, Nate Little, and Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly
Where: STC Main Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m.Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 30.
Information: 916-443-6722; www.sactheatre.org
Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission