To Kill a Mockingbird

Syracuse Stage’s 'To Kill a Mockingbird' offers a poignant response to today’s issues of inequality

By Genellelevy1 | March 6, 2016

Producing artistic director Timothy Bond sought to present a play that was relevant to the challenges of a modern day audience. As a response to the ongoing racial unrest that has occurred over the past year, Syracuse Stage included “To Kill a Mockingbird”in their 2015-2016 season. Creative staging combined with the classic tale’s sincerity, sagacity and timeless truths allowed for that goal to be accomplished.

Based on the novel by Harper Lee, and adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, the story is told from the point of view of Scout, a 10-year-old girl growing up in the Deep South with her older brother and father. Scout’s father, Atticus, is a lawyer with a strong moral rectitude who seeks to pass on the same principles to his young children.

Scout’s life changes drastically when her father decides to legally represent a black man accused of raping a young, white woman. It is only then that young Scout is exposed to the racism and injustice that permeates her town. Narrated by an adult version of herself, Scout continues to reflect on the impact of the events that occurred that summer.

The play effectively speaks to today’s modern civil rights struggle through the potent observations of the characters themselves. Atticus’ famous “walk in someone else’s shoes” line and his similar statement, “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” lays out ideas that are quintessential to equality that we still neglect to follow.

Mark Murphey (Atticus Finch) and Sera Bullis (Scout) perform in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Photo by Mike Davis.

Mark Murphey (Atticus Finch) and Sera Bullis (Scout) perform in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Photo by Mike Davis.

Many of these statements are staged in a way that is similar to an aside. Atticus gathers around his children and faces the audience in front center stage to deliver the line “you must walk in someone else’s shoes” creating a proclamation out of the very statement. In this production Atticus is portrayed by Mark Murphey, who brings the right blend of gravitas and thoughtfulness to the role. His splendid use of dramatic timing allows the audience to admire a character that is noble and integral to our understanding of this dramatic work.

While Sera Bullis effectively melded keen observation with innocent, childlike wonder to portray young Scout, Barbra Wengerd who plays Scout, the adult narrator, gave a good performance — but one that lacked profoundness.

Recently it’s become popular to stage plays that include adult versions and young versions of a single character. Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s “Fun Home”is a good example of this, however such narrative renderings usually offer complex reflections or insight as to what the young version of the character may be feeling. Although this is achieved on a basic level, in this production Wengerd doesn’t allow it to go as far as it could go.

The play does, though, achieve a similar effect to what the book does in that it relies on great storytelling, the unmasking of complex characters and leaves room for thought-provoking interpretations.