NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

ELIZABETH HURD THEATER REVIEW: 'To Kill A Mockingbird' reveals little gems and big baubles

Jewel Box Theatre kicks off the 2017-18 season with “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a powerful story by Harper Lee published in 1960 and earning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. By 1970, the book was expertly adapted to the stage by Christopher Sergel.

The story is told by Jean Louise, remembering her father from the perspective of an adult. As a little girl, Jean Louise was a tomboy keeping up with older brother, Jem, as they grew up in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression. The year, 1935, was just another year of privation and turmoil, but it marks a turning point in the life of a little girl called Scout. 

Producing the play requires an excellent director. A good director who is a good actor is a better director. A good director who is a good scene designer is also a better director. That is why “To Kill A Mockingbird” is directed by Ben Hall.

It can be seen in the smaller roles in this production. Larry Harris, Benton Jones, David Patterson, David Mays and Mark Ingham all turn in superb performances in this large cast. Roger Oxford, Benton Jones and Teri Lynn Hood also deliver exceptional moments in the show. They are only the highlights, as in such a large cast not everyone can be mentioned individually.

Molly Erwin is Mayella Robinson, the young woman falsely accusing Tom Robinson of a terrible attack.  Her suffering is palpable as she squirms in the witness chair.  It is convincing and terrible as one sees how she will never be able to face the truth, and that facing the truth will be her only salvation.

The Finches' housekeeper is Calpurnia and she is the epitome of the perfect surrogate mother to the children. Norma Goff perfectly displays her love as she disciplines the children, determined to create a lady out of Scout no matter what. 

The story of “To Kill A Mockingbird” revolves around Tom Robinson, a young black man with a family who is falsely accused of rape. Brian C. Scott becomes Tom Robinson with certainty—his eyes reflect his fear for himself and for his family without him. It is the Deep South of 1935 and a verdict of not guilty cannot be tolerated by the community. 

The children in the show are examples of  intelligent casting. Jacob Dever is older brother Jem and he is everything an older brother should be. Michael James is Dill and his look of desperation  is quite convincing. He understands how important Atticus Finch is to everyone.

The role of Jean Louise is dual. Carrie Helms is the adult Jean Louise Finch recalling her childhood and finally understanding her father and his greatness in full. Emma Poindexter is Scout, always in overalls over skinned knees and a dirty face. The two do not seem in tune with one another for different reasons.

With Helms it is that she is outside of the action, looking back at her own memories of Alabama in 1935. She is dressed right out of a 21st century closet. The decision to do that is a valid one; it acknowledges that the ugly issue of racism is still with us. But the modern Jean Louise doesn’t seem to fit the Scout of her youth, and although the costume decision is reasonable perhaps she should be dressed in her own time--the middle of the 20th century. It is not necessary for the audience, but it may make a difference for Helm’s performance—connecting her to the role definitively. Her performance is strong in every other respect and should be respected.

Poindexter’s Scout has little vocal variation. She seems to question Atticus judgmentally, almost as if she is attacking rather than trying to learn from him. Also, she is responding to Thurston’s Finch and that may affect her monotone delivery.

Tad Thurston is cast in the role of Atticus Finch. He is one-dimensional with almost no variation in his delivery. The first hurdle in rehearsal is to learn the lines getting off the book. It’s a big hurdle and a chore. But once that happens, the real work begins. Thurston has cleared the first hurdle with room to spare, but he has work to do yet. His rather stilted delivery seems more like a stuffed shirt than a sympathetic father. Thurston can, with a little work and lots of fun, recreate the Atticus that Lee imagines. A change in timing would accomplish much!  That will allow his relationship with Poindexter to change ever so slightly so she may become the Scout that Harper Lee imagined herself to be. Both can bring something new and valuable to the show.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” plays at the Jewel Box Theatre,  3700 N Walker, connected at the south side to the domed church. The show runs through Sept. 10, 2017, and the curtain is at 8 p.m. For information and tickets, visit or call 405-521-1786. The box office is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. It’s a family favorite, so reserve soon as tickets are selling fast.

Elizabeth Hurd

Read more ›