One of the reasons that I adore Steppenwolf Theatre is the diversity that they bring to their stages. From the marvelous works on their mainstage to the new adventurous productions at their Garage space and of course the beautiful productions that they present as part of their Steppenwolf For Young Adults program. Their current production on the Upstairs stage, as part of this program is “To Kill A Mockingbird” the classic story by Harper Lee, dramatized by Christopher Sergel that follows the journey of the Finch family of Maycomb, Alabama during the summer of 1935. This production, smartly staged by Director Hallie Gordon is about as perfect as a production can get! In fact, the best way to describe this highly emotional story dealing with racism and classes during a troubled time in our country’s history is WOW!. Yes, just WOW!
Gordon has put together a knock-out cast to bring this classic story to life. Each member of the ensemble creates a character ( or in some cases characters) that bring just the right touch of realism to this amazing story about the coming of age for one Jean Louise Finch AKA “Scout”.Jean Louise is played by Carolyn Defrin and Scout by the adorable and precious Caroline Hefferman ( a delight in every way). Her older brother Jem is deftly handled by Bubba Weiler ( a very familiar face who many of us have watched grow up on Chicago stages). Their dad, who is the single parent attorney, asked to defend a young Negro man of attacking a young White woman, is brilliantly played by Phillip R. Smith.
The rest of the cast members include, Claire Wellin ( as the alleged victim of the attack), Larry Neumann Jr. as her father, neighbors,Elaine Roth and Franette Liebow, Sandra Watson as the Finch housekeeper,Alan Wilder, Dexter Zollicoffer, Gary Simmers, Zachary Keller, James D. Farruggio and Abu Ansari as Tom Robinson, the wrongly convicted Tom Robinson. The set ( Collette Pollard)is a multi use one that is the narrators’ study, the block where the Finch family resides, other parts of the town and the court where the second act action takes hold.The lighting ( J.R. Lederle) and sound (Victorio aDeIorio) and costumes by Myron Elliott all add to bringing this classic story alive.
The story , while about racism, is really more. It is about values and doing what is best for all. Atticus Finch is a man who is not trying to turn the world upside down or to be a crusader that will change the world. he only wants what is fair and just and for sure wants his children to learn from what he does. As he telles them, if you want to judge a man, try walking in his shoes. Then you will know what is just and fair. As we look at what took place some 75 years ago, in a novel that is celebrating 50 years itself, we see that some of the same challenges still exist today. The beauty of this story is that it helps to remind us that it does still exist and that by allowing our youngsters to read or view this work, perhaps, in the future, people may look at this story and try to imagine that events such as this could ever have taken place. Ms. Lee, never wrote another novel, but we should be thankful that the one she did write has left a message for eternity!
This is wonderful theater and a production that can be viewed by the entire family. At the opening, I counted over 2 dozen children under 10 who appeared to watch with full concentration. That is always a challenge and Gordon and her cast made it happen. This production is viewed during the week by schools ( a wonderful opportunity to expose young people to live theater) and on the week ends, the public. “Mockingbird” will continue through November 14th with public performances on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are a mere $20 ( $15 for students) and can be purchased at the theater box office located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
Sunday April 23rd 2017