HART puts on powerful 'Mockingbird' show

By Mary Ann Enloe | Apr 30, 2014
Dave Evanoff as Atticus Finch and Jacob Shanken as Jem in HART's production of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' running through May 11.

HART could take its "To Kill a Mocking Bird" cast of 23 on the road. From Dave Evanoff's Atticus Finch to the jailhouse mob and the courtroom observers, there isn't a weak player on the stage.

Before the show Saturday night, director Wanda Taylor was excited.

"Wait until you see Atticus," she said. "I didn't want him to mimic Gregory Peck (the film's Oscar-winning lead) and he doesn't. He's taken the role of Atticus and made it his own."

Indeed he has. Evanoff's Atticus infuses with passion the role of the idealistic attorney who defends a black man of 'taking advantage' of a young white woman in 1930's Alabama. Playwright Christopher Sergel doesn't use the rape word in his adaptation of Harper Lee's 1960 Pulizer Prize-winning semi-autobiographical novel. But he uses the n-word, and Taylor addresses that in the program notes:

"I struggled for weeks in deciding if we should sanitize our play by using a milder term. I discussed the issue with several African American friends and certainly with the African American actors in our play… I decided not to change the word as used in the script… The fact that in 2014 so many of us are startled, shocked, offended at the word 'nigger' demonstrates at least one small step in the right direction since 1935..."

Actor Terrence Littlejohn owns the part of the accused black man Tom Robinson. Producers of this play should be seeking him out. The graduate of Clyde A. Erwin High School earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communications from Wake Forest University, a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Arizona State University, and a Master's degree in communication from the University of Tennessee.

The seasoned actor is an  accomplished member of both the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribesof Oklahoma. The Sergel script requires that Littlejohn speak in the dialect of an uneducated man of color accused of an unspeakable crime in a violently segregated small Alabama town during the Depression. Littlejohn becomes that man.

Children onstage can be scene stealers, and Lily Bates' Scout, Jacob Shanken's Jem and Luke Walker's Dill live up to that reputation. Charmers all, director Wanda Taylor can be proud of their work and of her work with them.

The play's plot is pushed forward by the author's frequent use of a narrator. Some reviewers, and a couple of folks in Saturday night's audience, find that hook disconcerting. For this reviewer, the narrator was a welcome thread in the story's rich tapestry.

Depicting the child Scout as an adult, Carolyn Pope was a good casting decision. Pope fluffed a line or two in her lengthy monologs, but the South Carolina native brought a refreshingly authentic smooth Southern accent and delivery to the stage which was easy to listen to.

The second act's courtroom scene is riveting. Evanoff makes a strong, believable trial lawyer. Offstage, he's a college chemistry professor. The blue ribbon in thespian lawyering has to go to the prosecuting attorney Gilmer, however. Played to perfection by local lawyer Bill Cannon, he's at home in the courtroom.

They're both cut down to size by the play's judge, Sylva attorney and HART board member Phil Haire. The former longtime state legislator is straight out of Central Casting, seersucker suit, bowtie and all. Saturday night's audience was dusted with lawyers who were there partly to see their peers perform.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is more than theatre. It's a morality play about dark days in the United States. As Taylor points out in the playbill, the nation was just five years past the Emmett Till murder and the Montgomery bus boycott when Harper Lee wrote the book. Selma and the Mississippi murders were yet to come. The cast and crew of HART's production have joined the nation-wide YMCA "Stand Against Racism Focus for 2014."

At the Sunday matinee May 4 the cast and audience will discuss the play and how racism in America has changed since 1935. Audiences are packing the HART house for this one.

HART Executive Director Steven Lloyd was there opening night and didn't get a seat. Remaining performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 2, 3, 9, and 10 and at 3 p.m. May 4 and 11. For tickets, call 828-456-6322 for reservations or go online tohttp://www.harttheatre.com/.