Saturday, November 16, 2013

REVIEW: BGDC's "To Kill a Mockingbird," Killer

The debut show of the new Battle Ground High School Drama Club is "To Kill A Mockingbird" and the students did a killer job.

The Book

Based on the classic book (often assigned high school reading) written by Harper Lee , "The adaptation we are doing," says director Stephen 'Cash' Henry, "is Christopher Sergel’s adaptation with Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch as the narrator about thirty years after the book and play are set [1930s]."

Editor's Note: Dennis Sparks directed this adaption in the '90s, which, at the time, had Maude, Scout's teacher, as the Narrator. He wrote to the adapter and told him that it is Scout's story and that Scout, as an adult, should be doing the narrations. The playwright changed it in later versions and the OSF show which Sparks later reviewed had that change.

Clifford Armstrong as Atticus, Brendan Groat as Dill, 
Bailey Baxter as Scout and Markus King as Jem.
From Wikipedia: To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on the author's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

"The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. 

Clifford Armstrong as Atticus.
"One critic explains the novel's impact by writing, 'In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.'"

I wasn't particularly enthralled with the book as the narrative language and voice, to me, does not reflect that of a six year-old from whose perspective the story is told. It might be argued that, like the device used in the play, the story is told from the adult Scout's view, many years after the incidents took place. Okay, I'll bite.

The Play

Markus King as Jem, Bailey Baxter as Scout, 
Kira Wirt as Calpurnia.
I also am not particular enthralled with this as a dramatic device either, as the play then becomes heavily narrative--like reader's theater--and tells much rather than shows. I feel it could be better presented with less commentary, even though this version is not as narrator-heavy as the last version I saw.

I think one of the reasons for this is that many adapters have fallen in love with the prose rather than the story. I think that all needs to be pushed out of the way. Nuff said, let's talk about the production.

The Performances

Clifford Armstrong as Atticus, Cody Bronkhorst as 
Judge Taylor, Sarah Russell as Mayella Ewell.
I felt the performances were generally good especially since much of the cast is new to the stage. I mostly felt the strain of the actors playing outside their age. Again, to reiterate, the dialogue from Scout written in the book (and transferred to the play) is not realistic, but that has nothing to do with what I'm saying.

None of the characters in this story are of high school age, so all the players either played someone older or younger than themselves. Only Emily Pulley, Sarah Russell (close to the age she played) and Markus King pulled it off.

Overall the acting was good, but those were the standouts. I especially liked  Sarah Russell's courtroom outburst as Mayella Ewell (a hard role to play). And I should mention that even though Clifford Armstrong played Atticus Finch a bit stiff and cold for me, I found his courtroom monologue absolutely splendid.

I was particularly impressed overall with Markus King's performance. He was exceptional--a truly great actor that I'd like to see more of. I should also say that I enjoyed Bailey Baxter. She has a great stage presence and had some good expression and physicality (though I didn't buy her performance as a six-year-old).

The Production

Production values were good. The director (Stephen 'Cash' Henry) did a fine job of blocking. The set (by Sundance Wilson Henry, the director's wife) was good, the lighting (by Cash) nearly perfect. Sound and sound design were good and the show (under the direction of Kali Worthley as TD) went really well. Costumes were a bit iffy and suggested period without really making it.

All in all I enjoyed the presentation and would recommend it to you. It was a killer first time production and I'm looking forward to the next two in the season ("Much Ado About Nothing" and "Grease").

WARNING: You should note that the story is a valuable one concerning racial equality. It does, however, have some mild cursing and uses the 'n' word. There is also some discrete talk about rape (without being graphic or using the term).

The show's run is November 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, & 23. [Sorry about the late review; we'll do better next time.] All shows 7 p.m. at the Battle Ground High School Lair. Tickets at the door are $5 for students/seniors and $10 for adults.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler.

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