By Pat Launer
He’s a bona fide American hero: wise, compassionate father; upright, ethical attorney; staunch defender of the weak and oppressed. So what if he’s a fictional character? Atticus Finch is a paradigm of parenthood and moral integrity. It’s hard not to love him as much as Scout does.
Atticus and Scout, of course, are characters in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1961 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was adapted for the stage – in numerous revisions and incarnations – by Christopher Sergel.
Although you may have read the book in junior high school, and seen the movie eons ago, it’s always a good time to revisit this great American story. Atticus never goes out of style. And alas, the racism he was battling in 1935 Alabama is still with us, too.
This version of the play is framed as a memory, with grown-up Scout recalling that fateful, unforgettable summer when her father defended a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. It was also the time she and her brother were terrified of Boo Radley, the supposedly violent neighbor who never left the house. But they started finding little tokens left in the crook of an oak tree. And so began a furtive relationship, of sorts.
New Village Arts has done a stellar job with this classic. Manny Fernandes, himself the father of two, beautifully captures the upright decency and caring formality of Atticus. And as Scout and Jem, Katelyn Katz and Dylan Nalbandian are wonderful, along with their buddy Dill, played with attitude but a bit of a rush by Matthew Mohler. Though the narrative structure provides a distancing effect, Kristianne Kurner has just the right amount of affectionate wistfulness as adult Jean Louise, which makes us attend and appreciate. Max Macke and Lauren King are delectably loathsome as the trashy Ewells who point a lying, guilt-ridden finger at hapless Tom Robinson, played with a dignified reserve by Durwood Murray. The rest of the 15-member cast acquit themselves well.
The set, lighting, sound design and original music conspire to evoke a hot summer in a small town. Fictional Maycomb and its insular inhabitants seem very real indeed. They were, in fact, based on Harper Lee’s own family, friends and experiences as a 10 year-old in Monroeville, Alabama. The reclusive author never wrote another book, but she has left us an indelible, heart-rending legacy.
- “To Kill a Mockingbird” runs through May 4 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad
- Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
- Running time: 2½ hours
- Tickets ($28-$31) are available at 760-433-3245 or online at www.newvillagearts.org
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.