Review: To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels
Until now, To Kill a Mockingbird has not been seen on a Broadway stage. And, it's easy to wonder why. Dubbed "the last book we all read together as a nation" by the LA Times, Mockingbird is a cornerstone of American Literature, has been adapted into a movie, and has seen the publication of a controversial first draft, entitled Go Set a Watchman. Now it makes its Broadway bow, adapted by Aaron Sorkin. But despite the national love for the story, not all of it translates to the stage.
Told as a memory play, Scout, Jem, and Dill are all played by adults. They narrate the events that happened in 1934 Maycomb, Alabama, though they don't only act as narrators, portraying their characters in real time as the story happens. While this method of storytelling is a departure previous incarnations of To Kill a Mockingbird, some of the better scenes in the play consist of the banter between Scout, Jem, and Dill.
The consistent switching between narration and real time does not always work to the play's advantage. By having the actors who play the older versions of each character also play the child version, the sentiment that they are children is lost, and the child-like view of the world that they sometimes display comes off as ignorance to how the world truly works. Additionally, the story does not play out chronologically, which is probably the biggest flaw in the production.
Despite the flaws in the storytelling, marvelous performances are given by the entire cast. Notable standouts, however, are Jeff Daniels as Atticus, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Calpurnia. Each give masterful performances that capture the audience's attention and ground the story through the real humanity they bring to their parts.
While the simplistic sets that are mostly moved on and off stage by cast members suit the story's needs well, it is an intimate show, and doesn't feel as though it fills the Shubert Theatre up to the rafters. It's a show that makes you want to lean in to be sure you didn't miss anything.
Despite the flaws in the show, there is no denying that the discussion of race and sexual assault are extremely relevant to our country today. And it's no wonder that Mockingbird is beloved as a quintessential American novel. It's themes are as prevalent now as they were when it was published.