How fortunate it is, then, for the Barksdale – and the Richmond theater-going public – that Crenshaw and especially Harvie prove to be admirable complements to their more experienced cast mates. These two kids are in nearly every scene and positively shine as the play navigates a meandering path through thick Southern Gothicism and priceless life lessons. Crenshaw and Harvie, together with Thomas and Inscoe, provide a vibrant core around which director Foster Solomon crafts a meticulous and marvelous production.
While the movie version of “Mockingbird” focuses on the unjust trial of accused rapist Tom Robinson (Ruan Woolfolk), the play allows more expansive exploration of the small town dynamic of Maycomb, Ala., as well as some of the auxiliary characters. In particular, the full story of Mrs. Dubose (Chris Bass Randolph), who in the movie is nothing but a cranky old lady, provides a deeper context for Jem’s growth and understanding during the play. An emotionally charged scene in a black church demonstrates how racism wasn’t an attitude exclusive to whites in the South.
Solomon seems to take the script’s expansiveness as a challenge to stage each scene with fastidious attention to detail. From the hushed sound of birds chirping at the show’s beginning to the warm orange glow that underscores the autumn scenes late in the second act, every detail of the production has been honed and refined. Every secondary character – from the bossy but loving maid Calpurnia (Val Gordon) to the amusingly fussy Judge Taylor (Christopher Dunn) – comes clearly to life. Maycomb becomes not just a town of characters, but a living, breathing community.
As good as it is, “Mockingbird” may disappoint people unwilling to forget the memorable movie. The play’s length (nearly 3 hours) allows for more of Harper Lee’s astonishing writing to come forward but also may frustrate those looking forward exclusively to the rape trial’s theatrics. Inscoe’s Atticus doesn’t have the same steely hunkiness of Gregory Peck, but he trades that for a warmth and gentleness that strengthens the chemistry with his onstage kids.
And, in the end, this show is about the kids. Solomon has chosen two gifted young actors who help make this production one of the most engrossing and enlightening nights of theater available here in a long time. S
“To Kill a Mockingbird” plays at the Barksdale Theatre Wednesday to Sunday through Nov. 16.
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