To Kill a Mockingbird
CTM Madison Family Theatre Company at the Overture Center Playhouse, through May 27
To Kill a Mockingbird is a good fit at the Overture Center Playhouse, which is very like the old Isthmus Playhouse in size, design and intimacy. Plus more comfortable seats!
CTM Madison Family Theatre's Mockingbird achieves a fresh vitality with no loss of the resonant elements that make this play an American classic. Much is due to director Roseann Sheridan's approach and much to the excellent cast. They transport us to Depression-era Alabama, where justice is color-blind and one man's courage confronts a town's prejudice.
Harper Lee's iconic story is seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout), thoughtfully played by Emma Geer with scrappy, lanky, tomboy charm. When her lawyer father, Atticus Finch (Richard Ganoung), defends a black man wrongly accused of rape, Scout and her brother Jem (Kenny Lyons) learn hard lessons about racism, conscience and childhood illusions.
A simple set suggests front porches in summertime - a few railings and chairs, all easily rearranged to become the second-act courtroom scene. A twisted tree looms in the background, symbolic perhaps of dark fears that haunt this play. Fears like scary Boo Radley (Raymie K).
Onstage narrator Monica Lyons (as adult Jean Louise) provides mature reflection on Scout's memories, supplying an additional layer of meaning for a story written in the '60s about the '30s.
Mockingbird has a large, able cast: townsfolk young and old, some friends and some an angry redneck mob. Geer and Lyons stand out for their confident, convincing performances. Their twerpy sidekick, Dill Harris (Caleb Sullivan), is mischief personified. Ganoung's Atticus is a quiet spellbinder when he addresses the Playhouse audience as if we were the jury. He plays the part with more emotion than expected, but why should Gregory Peck be the gold standard anyway?
Lee Waldhart, incisive as Sheriff Heck Tate, demolishes that Southern stereotype; and Marty L'Herault and Rebecca Chicoine are appropriately vicious as the white-trash Ewells. Chicoine, in particular, can act with her back. Ray Pearson turns in another fine performance as the innocent, doomed Tom Robinson.
One of Sheridan's inspired innovations is a choir, high in the theater balconies, of Southern ladies complete with hats and pulsing fans. Their hymns serve as a transition between scenes and as a contrast to shouted racist slurs. "The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow," the ladies sing.