‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Is Just as Important Today

Wrapped up this previous weekend at the Broward Center, Broadway found its way back to south Florida with To Kill A Mockingbird and a star-studded cast. Based on the movie, which was based on the novel, this play is a newer adaptation by playwright Aaron Sorkin, famed writer for his contributions to popular TV shows like “The West Wing,” and more. Emmy award-winning actor Richard Thomas commanded the audience like he did in the courtroom as Atticus Finch. South Florida Theater Magazine got a chance to see the poignant play, and let me tell you: it’s just as important today as it was when it was published in 1960.

We live in a day and age where local and state governments are looking at the books on our shelves and deciding that they are uncomfortable with the material inside them. They look at novels like To Kill A Mockingbird and decide that the subject material should not be discussed and deliberated inside any classroom. Well, when I was 14, and in 9th grade, I had to read this novel, and it changed the way that I thought about the judicial system in the South.

Scout, Jem and Dill discover the dolls – Steven Lee Johnson (“Dill Harris”), Melanie
Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Justin Mark (“Jem Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The environment the cast and crew created for To Kill A Mockingbird here in 2023 maintained that hierarchy of a jury who is anything but impartial. This kind of production is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, and they delivered. The play opens with the three children Scout, Jem, and Dill running to take their places at various places on the stage and they tell you how this play will end: Bob Ewell falls on his own knife.

The central court case that this play focuses around, if you haven’t gotten the opportunity to read the novel, is about a Black man (Tom Robinson) who is accused of raping a White woman (Mayella Ewell). In a town like Maycomb, where the majority of the population is white and most public spaces are still desegregated, it was almost certain that Tom committed this crime, because how couldn’t he?

Courtroom Scene A – (l to r) Arianna Gayle Stucki (“Mayella Ewell”), Richard
Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Stephen Elrod (“Bailiff”), Richard Poe (“Judge Taylor”),
Greg Wood (“Mr. Roscoe”) and Joey Collins (“Bob Ewell”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Well, Atticus takes the case. In 2023, this can be viewed as the “White Savior” complex, Atticus thinking that he is Tom’s only chance, which may be true, but does not help Tom at all in the long run. The three kids flutter around the stage as the transfer from participants in the story to its narrators. The props and sets were so smoothly wheeled in, pushed out, dropped down; each scene felt alive and the actors’ presence felt.

The audience learns with the jury that Tom couldn’t have done any physical harm to her because he only has the use of one arm. We also learn that it is Mayella’s father who is sexually assaulting her at home. Finally, we learn that Tom went into her house to fix her door because he felt sorry for her. When he uttered those words, that a Black man could feel sorry for a White woman, he nailed his own coffin shut. They find him guilty, unanimously.

Atticus Finch in the courtroom – Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”) and The
Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Maybe the other, most famous name from this production is Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor of the Finches. After the trial of Tom Robinson, the kids are attacked by a drunken Bob Ewell with a knife, but Boo Radley shows up and saves the children by stabbing Ewell with his own knife. This brings the play to the beginning: Bob Ewell fell on his own knife.

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