July 17, 2019
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New Dimensions in “Mockingbird”

By: Janet and Lanny Lowery
May 3, 2019

Last week we previewed 6th Street Playhouse’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a “must see” show.  Our interview focused on the main adult character, Atticus Finch, played by actor Jeff Cote`.  He did not disappoint, but he also kept a few secrets.  The grown up version of Jean Louise Finch played by Ellen Rawley added another level to the play.  Her narration and sometimes interaction with the characters from 1935 delivered a poignant emotional and intellectual dimension to the story.  She provided a running commentary with the past events.  And her very best piece of acting came wordlessly at the end of the play. Another secret was the gospel music sung, without instrumental accompaniment, by the Afro-American actors in the show.  The music underlined the drama, brought heart-felt emotional portrayal of the characters, and served nicely as transitions between scenes while stagehands rearranged the scenery. Jourda`n Olivier Verde` (Tom Robinson), Val Sinckler (Calpurnia), Nicholas Augusta (Reverend Sykes), Jasmine Williams (Helen) and Ella Jones (Tom Robinson’s daughter) all played their characters’ parts admirably but more than this, they lifted the production beyond the well-known story with the harmonizing and dancing that produced a soulful experience. Cecilia Brenner played the young Scout with a mixture of spunkiness and innocence.  And she matched well with the grown up Jean Louise Finch.  Mario Giani Herrera showed Jem to be the character that was on the verge of leaving childhood behind but with a latent desire to hold on to youth.  Liev Bruce-Low produced every reader’s Dill in all of his scenes.  Impish and clever through line delivery and facial expression, Bruce-Low’s Dill showed the child’s suffering from parental neglect. This production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” centers on the inhabitants of Maycomb County as well as on the personal stories of the Finch family and its friends and on the Robinson family and its supporters.  Each supporting character plays a major role in making up the community as well as being faithful to the famous story.  The actors’ meet this challenge by not overstepping their roles but by presenting them as pieces of the story puzzle. Thus we see Mayella (Caitlin Strom-Martin) toned down, not exaggerated.  Heck Tate (Tom Glynn) played as quiet, humble but determined.  Al Kaplan resembles the Judge from the novel, gentle but in control of the courtroom, and also as the culturally conflicted impoverished farmer, Walter Cunningham.  Mike Pavone captures the poor white trash Bob Ewell without being a caricature of the Southern racist.  Terry Kolkey’s Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor, comes off nicely as a product of his time and place.  And Connor Woods handles the dual job of presenting the two Radley brothers as distinct characters. Three townswomen, true to Harper Lee’s portrayal in the novel, emerge through the acting of Brandy Noveh (Miss Maudie), Bestsy Glincher (Mrs. Dubose), and Stephanie Crawford (Jill Waggoner).  Each actress presents just enough of the character known through the novel but each tempers that role slightly to make her character believable, not cartoon-like. The production staff’s incredible work, brought together by the determined Director Marty Pistone, made 6th Street’s production excel as a show, not just re-enacting a well-known novel, but of bringing something creative and original to the stage.  Branice McKenzie’s effort as the Choir and Music Designer manifests itself in the gospel music frame that adds psychological depth to the historical account of a small Southern town of the 1930s.  Scenic Designer Alayna Klein’s vision of Maycomb bursts forth with the wood frame porch setting that shifts smoothly into the courtroom scene.  Plants upstage give the feel of the country town, and the tire swing, used effectively by the children, lends the bucolic childhood days touch.  Credit actor Connor Wood with the set building. Julia Kwitchoff, Costume Designer, missed nothing in representing the period, the place, and the social levels.  Atticus wore the light colored suit fitting the heat of the summer and the intense situation.  Dignified poverty through the clothing of the impoverished Afro-Americans and the scrubbed poor white trash of the Ewell family underscored the story.  Lighting, designed by April George, played its role, especially during the gospel singing done downstage while sets shifted in the dark behind the singers.  And Sound Designer Albert Casselhoff from thirties music before the show and during intermission or sounds of thunder to frame dramatic moments played his part well. One thing that did not deter from the show, but certainly could have damaged its credibility, was the Southern accents of the characters.  Dialect Coach Kate Brickley worked with the cast to produce soft but not exaggerated accents.  Her efforts carried nicely through the actors. The legendary “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the 6th Street Playhouse reputation impacted ticket pre-sales so well that five additional showings were added to accommodate customer demands.  Sixteen performances remain between May 3 and May 19.  Evening shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and seven matinees begin at 2 p.m.  Tickets are $22 to $30, with under 30 at $20, and are available at 6thstreetplayhouse.com or by calling the Box Office at (707) 523-4185 ext. 1.