The stage play based on this classic American novel is a great opportunity for teens to learn some hard history lessons.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of racial injustice in the American South, has been adapted and updated for the Broadway stage. The National Tour is performing at Keller Auditorium now through Sunday, October 23. I was in the audience opening night, and loved it. Though Lee’s book was written in the late 1950s and takes place during the Great Depression, its message of tolerance and standing up for what is right are as relevant as ever.
It’s the story of Atticus Finch, a small town white lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a young Black man who has been falsely charged with raping a white woman. Atticus, played by Richard Thomas of The Waltons fame, is also a widower raising two children with the help of his housekeeper, Calpurnia. On stage, the story is narrated by the two Finch children, Scout and Jem, and their new friend, Dill. It’s through their innocent and outraged eyes that we witness the trial and get to know the town and its people. Along with a handful of other characters, Scout, Jem and Dill provide moments of comic relief in an otherwise heavy story.
Atticus tries to teach his children that all people are worthy of respect and there is good in everyone, but audiences will meet some seriously despicable characters. Parents who bring their children should be ready to discuss racism, white supremecy, lynch mobs, “the N word”, the electric chair, rape, incest and murder with their kids. These topics, coupled with the three-hour run time (including one 15 minute intermission), are why I recommend this for theatergoers ages 13 and older. And recommend it, I do! The play is wonderfully crafted and the National Tour cast is exceptional, which includes six actors from the Broadway production. Also in the cast are Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout in the 1962 film version, and Portlander Justin Mark, who plays Jem.
Though not crucial, I do highly recommend teens (and adults) read Lee’s novel first. On stage, the story unfolds differently than in the book and many scenes and speeches have been updated. I appreciated those changes; they modernize the story without harming the integrity of the original.
As of this writing, tickets are still available from Broadway in Portland for all remaining performances and start at $34.75 each. Proof of COVID vaccination is no longer required and though wearing a face mask is strongly encouraged, hardly anyone was wearing one on opening night. Parking is plentiful in several nearby lots.
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