To Kill A Mockingbird

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch.

I wanted to do justice to this magnificent production of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird after plugging the hell out of this review yesterday. Holy self-imposed pressure, Batman.

The stock line about the Sorkinized play is that it’s a Mockingbird for our times. Sometimes the stock line is correct. It certainly is in this case.

I haven’t seen the movie or read the book in longer than I care to admit, so I’m a bit vague on the details. It’s okay: as I always say I’m a big picture man.

Aaron Sorkin has reduced the white savior content considerably. This Atticus Finch is a less saintly and more humorous character. He’s not out to save the world, just to protect his children and his client, Tom Robinson. I think Gregory Peck would have loved to play the Sorkinized Atticus. Richard Thomas was born to play Atticus Finch. That’s why I don’t feel cheated by not seeing Jeff Daniels in the role.

Repeat after me: Richard Thomas was born to play Atticus.

Heart-warming rural family dramas aren’t my jam, so I only saw Thomas in The Waltons a few times. He’s spent half-a-century living with the ghost of John Boy. His brilliant performance as Frank Gaad in The Americans made me a Richard Thomas stan. Frank’s death was among the most shocking on the series because he was one of the most likeable characters on that great spy drama, which I recapped here at First Draft.

The Black characters are given much more to do in Sorkin’s adaptation. The Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) is a force of nature who doubles as a counterweight to Atticus’ genteel and polite nature. Calpurnia emerges as a major character in the unforgettable second act after revealing why she was pissed at Atticus. He’s too damn nice, that’s why.

Mary Badham who played Scout in the movie played the rude racist neighbor, Mrs. Dubose. I howled with laughter every time she called Scout an “ugly little girl.” She reminded me of my first wife’s grandmother who was known as Meemaw. We called her Meanmaw behind her back because we feared her wrath if we did it to her face. Cowardly but true.

Bob Ewell, the villain of the piece, is played by Broadway veteran Joey Collins. The word that comes to mind is PECKERWOOD. Sorkin doesn’t mute his hatefulness and deeply stupid racism. Ewell dies after “falling on his knife,” a dodge devised to protect the Finch children and Boo Radley. Yay, Boo.

Repeat after me: Bob Ewell fell on his knife.

One thing Dr. A and I both loved about the production was watching the cast move the sets and furniture around. Even the star lifted the odd chair. It was great fun to watch them scurry about the dimly lit stage.

Grading Time: I give To Kill A Mockingbird 4 stars and an Adrastos grade of A. It lived up to the advance billing.

Repeat after me: Richard Thomas was born to play Atticus Finch.

A quick note about the venue. The Saenger Theatre is one of the crown jewels of New Orleans. It was soaked by flood waters in 2005 and closed until 2013. They took advantage of the damage to restore the theatre to its circa 1927 glory. It’s a glorious place to see a play or concert even if the seats aren’t the most comfortable in the world. Oh well, what the hell.

One of my fondest Saenger Theatre memories came in 1997 when we saw John Fogerty on his Blue Moon Swamp tour. The stage set was an elaborate reproduction of the album art and lent a note of drama to the proceedings.

Reminiscing last night about that great Fogerty show gave me an earworm. The last word goes to John Fogerty with the song he opened with some 26 years ago: