Review: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ shows how to push back against a text

Steven Lee Johnson as Dill Harris (left), Melanie Moore as Scout Finch and Justin Mark as Jem Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which tours to BroadwaySF’s Golden Gate Theatre. Photo: Julieta Cervantes / BroadwaySF

America’s White population is being scrutinized, but an unjust Black man is forced to bear the consequences.

Wait, maybe if you make an effort to understand them, you’ll see that Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas) thinks differently about this time. He knows his neighbors and friends in Maycomb County, and he knows they’re decent people if you try to understand their perspective. The country is not changing, and there is no evidence against Tom Robinson Yaegel Welch. He does not have a “case” to exculpate himself from, and it’s common sense to him. It’s the 1930s now.

Aaron Sorkin, the writer who won an Oscar, tackled the difficult undertaking of adapting ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for Broadway, a task often described as a ‘suicide mission’.

‘Aaron Sorkin, the playwright of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, is distributing books instead of prohibiting them.’

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Stephen Elrod as Bailiff, Richard Poe as Judge Taylor, Greg Wood as Mr. Roscoe and Joey Collins as Bob Ewell in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: Julieta Cervantes / BroadwaySF

If you know Harper Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” or have a little knowledge of U.S. History, you might find yourself hoping to see Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation running at BroadwaySF’s Golden Gate Theatre from Oct. 9. In this adaptation, Atticus is portrayed as a Black man who honestly says he feels sorry for Mayella, a poor white woman, and sets in motion a tragedy with sturdy construction and tragic events that can be seen.

If we possessed the determination, we could dismantle it, and the fact that we were brought into it, children Scout (Melanie Moore), Jem (Justin Mark), and Dill (Steven Lee Johnson) consciously constructed the world. Demonstrating that we have constructed it gradually, the courtroom, front porches, and jail cell of Miriam Buether’s cleverly designed set descend and slide in. Bartlett Sher’s production emphasizes that it didn’t necessarily have to unfold in this manner.

Melanie Moore as Scout Finch (left) and Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: Julieta Cervantes / BroadwaySF

That is simply one of the methods that Sher and Sorkin resist their primary material while still respecting it.

In the trial, unfairness is dispensed while their hands neatly folded, silently weep from a distant corner of the stage, Finch’s servant Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams) and other African American cast members (Glenn Fleary, Dorcas Sowunmi), it’s distressing to witness, allocate the majority of its eloquent words to Caucasian individuals, it’s cringe-worthy to observe a narrative about race, if Sorkin’s knowledgeable conversation condenses an essay into each sentence, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is not the literature that any advocate for racial equality would compose in 2022.

“To heal us and help us overcome the deep and lasting wounds of racial injustice in our country, and especially in the lives of our children, we can still learn valuable lessons from the timeless classic, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”

She can point us back to our better selves and our shared humanity, presuming that all adults around her keep their ideals and goodness. She can reverse those judgments upon fresh evidence quickly, but she judges just as quickly. Atticus peppers her with queries, hoping that she could provide the next answer to make sense of the whole world. She stomps out evil as if she could blot it out with her feet. Scout observes Moore with the keenness of a hawk.

Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch (left) and Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: Julieta Cervantes / BroadwaySF

Another method the show resists its origin is through the spectacular acts of Welch and Williams.

Tom Welch, the best possible defendant with doomed dignity, is not just quiet. He possesses an edge that sets him apart. He is incredibly funny and intelligent. While on the stand, recounting the events between him and Mayella, he manages to make his tale filled with danger, despite being frozen in place. This causes the courtroom to transform into an enraged white mob, ready to attack him at the slightest misstep. Additionally, by implicitly allowing us to question Atticus, Welch challenges the lofty words spoken by his lawyer, thereby uncovering the harsh realities of his situation.

“It doesn’t matter whom you offend by doing it,” she delivers it with speed, and an openly prejudiced person like Bob Ewell (Joey Collins), challenging Atticus’ unwavering belief in treating everyone with respect, even a perpetrator, delivers one of the most impactful lines in the play, Williams’ Calpurnia.

Melanie Moore as Scout Finch (left) and Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: Julieta Cervantes / BroadwaySF

Passive courtesy is not a cure-all. However, this play adds complexity to that admiration. Atticus has been idolized by numerous generations of readers as the ideal American father – honorable, humble, and avoiding conflict at any expense. Yet, when Thomas (who is exceptional) made his entrance on opening night, the applause seemed to be more for what Atticus symbolizes rather than for Thomas himself.

This production should set the stage for successive works of literature. Few plays and books have reached the same pedestal as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which says less about artists and more about what readers and audiences still won’t tolerate. This should develop our racial conscience.

The play “To Kill a Mockingbird” is directed by Sher Bartlett and adapted by Aaron Sorkin from the original novel written by Harper Lee. It will be performed at the Golden Gate Theatre on St. Taylor Street. The show runs for two hours and forty-five minutes, from October 9th through November.

  • Lily Janiak fulfills the role of the theater reviewer for The San Francisco Chronicle. You can contact her through email at ljaniak@sfchronicle.Com or track her on Twitter at @LilyJaniak.