Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Dawn L. Troupe
Featuring: Brian Levi, AnJu Hyppolite, Sarah Birdsall, Jacob Rosen, Juliana Lustenader, Barbara Heninger, Emily Mannion, Katie Maupin, Stephanie Crowley, David Blackburn, Tyler Groshong, Rich Matli, CC Sheldon, Henry Kaiser, Galen Poulton, Robert Fairless, Anthone Jackson, Hilary Stevens, Jack Barrett, Joseph Gloss, Jasmine Williams, Phaedra Johnson, Wes Chick
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; March 10-27, 2016
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City
Tickets: $25-$45; Call 650-349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org/shows/to-kill-a-mockingbird.
against prejudice in Alabama
at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City
When lawyer Atticus Finch gives air rifles to his two children. he tells them they are never to be used "to kill a mockingbird."
Hillbarn Theatre's excellent company does a great job in its production of the stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" of teasing out the nuances of small town Alabama life in the 1930s, from the old cranky neighbor Mrs Dubose (Barbara Heninger) to the town busybody Stephanie Crawford (Stephanie Crowley). Heninger plays the elderly woman with superb crankiness, and the busybody knows everything that's going on.
The set shows three houses: those of Mrs. Dubose, the Radleys and the Finches, and easily doubles as the courtroom with just the addition of a few chairs and tables. We really feel as though we were in a hot Alabama summer's day, with everyone fanning themselves.
Every lawyer gets one case in a lifetime and for Atticus Finch (Brian Levi) it is the Tom Robinson case. Levi plays Finch with calm, measured delivery and we always feel he is one step ahead of everyone else. Tom Robinson (Anthone Jackson) has been accused of attacking and raping Mayella Ewell (CC Sheldon). Robinson is black and Ewell is white, so when Atticus (everyone calls him Atticus, even his children) agrees to defend Robinson, the whole town seems to be against him.
Scout as a young girl is played with real gusto by Emily Mannion, and she doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Their maid Calpurnia (Anju Hyppolite) is black, so why should people be so against Atticus? She is also intrigued by their reclusive neighbor Nathan Radley and his son Arthur, both played by David Blackburn.
Blackburn's wonderful sloping-shouldered walk puts one in mind of the snaggle-toothed backwoodsmen of "Deliverance." The story is narrated by the elder Scout, real name Jean Louise Finch, played by Sarah Birdall, who keeps us apprised of Scout's thoughts, and some of the undercurrents in the town.
When the trial comes, Atticus has all his questions ready for Mayella, and for her father, played with conniving menace by Henry Kaiser. He "never asks a question he doesn't already know the answer to," Scout reminds us. Atticus seems to make it clear that Robinson didn't do the act, but there's no way the town's jury is going to let him off. Jackson has a resonant singing voice and at one point his character Robinson breaks into a spiritual. Atticus himself has to guard the jail where Robinson is imprisoned, against the town's mob led by his friend Walter Cunningham (Galen Poulton), bent on a lynching the suspect.
The mob scene is really quite scary, but Atticus somehow manages to diffuse the mob's passions and the trial continues to its bigoted but inevitable conclusion. Levi plays Atticus with calm, unflustered authority, like a latter-day Abe Lincoln. Kaiser's Bob Ewell is smug and menacing, and Mannion's young Scout is bubbly and innocent. But Tyler Groshong as Scout's friend Dill was thoroughly enjoyable – "little, but old," as one of the adults describes him.
This is a thought-provoking play, showing how one man, against all the odds, can stand up to the ingrained prejudice of a community brought up to be racist. For every Bob Ewell, we'll need at least two Atticus Finches.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com