|It’s hard to mess up a really great story.Few people would argue that To Kill a Mockingbird is anything but a treasured, classic story. We’ve read the one and only book by Harper Lee and watched the movie starring Gregory Peck… and we love it. This is my first time seeing it on stage. The Actor’s Co-op has taken on the task of honoring this lovely story of “family, friendship, and the strength of the human spirit” and while not wholly successful on their opening weekend, they give it a good shot. And they do it with heart.
I won’t bore you with the obligatory “here’s what the story is about” spiel. You know the iconic Atticus Finch, (admirably played by Greg Martin) solo father raising his children Jem (Albert Bursalyan) and Scout (Zoe Rae Calamar) to be the best people they can be in a world of injustices and harsh realities. This stage adaptation (by Christopher Sergel) covers the basics of Finch family life in Maycomb Alabama 1935, the trial of Tom Robinson (Montelle Harvey) a black man wrongly accused and convicted of raping the white Mayella Ewell (Tannis Hanson) and finishes with the attempted abduction of Scout by the revengeful Bob Ewell (sooo well played by Joe Colligan) and her rescue by the mysterious and misunderstood Boo Radley (Scott Wordham).
I underestimated the giant and likely daunting task of telling this story from the stage. The Actor’s Co-op’s home is a sweet space in Hollywood, but it’s small. There are numerous places where important action takes place in this epic story. The scenic designer, (Gary Lee Reed) who also happens to be the director of the production, did what he could with the space and, no doubt, budget he had to work with. Often times the narrator (a grown Jean Louise Finch, played by Liz Randall) was left to describe the action that couldn’t be shown due to venue constraints. The most inventive ”scene change” was the turning of the stage into the courtroom, incorporating the stage right audience as the jury. Besides the challenge of a limiting space, it appeared that the crew was still trying to get a hold of some lighting cues as there seemed to be some confusion about when they should be up, down, and to what level. Also, the swelling background music often times drowned out the actors. Both issues are obvious problems they have no doubt, fixed at this point. Technically it wasn’t a stellar show. I don’t like to pick excessively at technical aspects, as I believe other things are more important to the telling of a story. But if the technical problems distract… and they did opening weekend, it’s worth a mention.
A large cast is required for this production. It’s the norm in a high budget musical, but one doesn’t often see an ensemble of this size on such an intimate stage. The ensemble was comprised of some strong actors. My very favorites were in the key roles of Atticus, Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell (previously mentioned) as well as the wise housekeeper Calpurnia (Letecia Moosre). Jem and Scout (also previously mentioned) had some really great moments and those moments will surely multiply over time. There were also some weaker links, or more accurately labeled, less than polished moments in the show. It seemed the timing was off in a few scenes with possible dropped lines, actors talking over each other as well as an awkward pause or two. I hope and expect those issues are already remedied after having few weeks of the run under their belts.
It seemed to me all involved are committed and passionate about the telling of the story. Gary Lee Reed, director, is the captain of a sturdy ship. Whether the production has the potential to become a luxury cruise liner or not, is beside the point. If I were queen of the world, I would have had this company present Mockingbird in a reader’s theatre type setting, leaving much to the powerful imagination of the audience, but alas, this is the show at hand. It’s hard to mess up a good story and the Actors Co-op certainly does not.
Despite any imperfections, at the end of the trial, I still wanted to rise to my feet with Scout and the rest in the courtroom, showing respect when her father was passing. I continue to learn from the wisdom Atticus imparts in action and words to his precious children: “You can never truly understand someone until you have walked a mile in their skin.”
It’s a respectable mounting of an incredible story. Seize the opportunity to see it live.
1760 North Gower Street, Hollywood.
Runs Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Thru November 20th.
Additional Saturday matinee on October 29th at 2:30 p.m.
(323) 462-8460, ext. 300