Friday, April 5, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Shubert Theatre

Show*: 3

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird

Location: Shubert Theatre

Written By: Aaron Sorkin (adapted from the novel by Harper Lee)

Summary: A new adaptation of the American classic.

Highlights: To Kill a Mockingbird is an American tragedy. A tragedy that happened in 1934 when this specific story of a black man wrongly convicted and killed is set, a tragedy that was happening when the novel was published in 1960 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, a tragedy that is still happening today. You can buy a hoody that says "Trayvon" at the concession with proceeds going to the Trayvon Martin Foundation. This play feels like a call to action. There was no other possible ending to this story of a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1934 Alabama; no matter the evidence, no matter how good of a lawyer Atticus Finch is, there's no way a jury of 12 white men would do anything other than find Tom Robinson guilty (this is only a spoiler for people who don't know American history). But as Atticus says in his closing argument, "we can't go on like this, we must heal this wound or we'll never stop bleeding."

No one better to write this call to action than my favorite TV writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of such righteously idealistic TV shows as The West Wing and The Newsroom, bringing his trademark wit and intelligence to the script. He's created a clever narrative structure in which the story is narrated by Atticus' children Scout and Jem and their friend Dill (charmingly portrayed by adult actors Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen, and Gideon Glick). The story begins after the trial is over, then we see the trial proceed, with flashbacks to fill in the story. The play culminates at the end of the trial, no justice for Tom Robinson (portrayed by Gbenga Akinnagbe with quiet dignity), and some sort of unsatisfying justice for accuser Bob Ewell (a scary good Frederick Weller). Sorkin reunites with his Newsroom star Jeff Daniels, who gives a beautifully quiet and nuanced performance as the iconic character Atticus Finch, whose inherent sense of justice is not enough to change the way the world was, or is. The Finches' long-time family maid Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) also gets to have her say, a nice update for 2019.  I won't even mention the ingenuous set that smoothly transitions from courtroom to front porch to inside the Finch home, or the gorgeous period costumes (seen and admire up close in the post-show Broadway Cares donation).

Like the Yiddish Fiddler I saw earlier in the day, this is an old story that still needs to be told over and over, until we learn a new and better way to do things. All rise!

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2019 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.