By Sheila Barth
Some things never change.
We say they do. Over the years, we claim, there have been sweeping, amazing, changes.
But people don’t change. Sadly, there’s a stagnancy in human nature and conditions. Such is the case with Christopher Sergel’s striking stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with Gloucester Stage’s blended cast of outstanding professional and local actors, skillfully directed by award-winning Boston director-Boston University educator, Judy Braha.
Jon Savage’s rustic, simplistic set and homespun props, such as tire and chair swings, stairs, and silhouetted background create an intimate immersive atmosphere. Also, Braha oftentimes places cast members near theatergoers in the aisle, or seated among us, intensifying audience experience and reactions.
Although this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set in 1930’s, segregated, racist, small-town Maycomb, Ala, it relates the story of an innocent, African-American male accused of raping a white woman. That situation -Black males accused of crimes they didn’t commit, but are beaten, arrested and incarcerated regardless, still exists, unfortunately.
However, today, growing, outraged masses are increasingly demonstrating their opposition against racist-driven arrests, police brutality and killings, at sports events, concerts, marches, and parades.
Lee’s novel and Sergel’s adaptation vividly recreate life back in the days of the Great Depression, with its poverty, unemployment, blatant racism and segregation – the Jim Crow days. Most folks didn’t do anything to help or defend the unjustly accused, for fear of death threats and worse. In some cases, the accused didn’t make it to trial. They were taken by mobs, lynched, and mutilated.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is told through flashbacks of grown-up narrator Jean Louise Finch, revisiting a hideous incident that occurred when she was 10 years old. Her righteous lawyer father, Atticus Finch, took the unpopular job of defending young Black male Tom Robinson, unjustly accused of raping white trash 19-year-old Mayella Ewell.
There’s also a heaping, heartwarming, handful of local color, as children Scout (Jean Louise’s childhood nickname), her older brother Jem, and visiting neighbor Dill, play together and discover a neighborhood treasure, a cigar box hidden in a tree, filled with Indian head coins, and other memorabilia.Then too, there’s neighborhood spooky, scary guy, Boo Radley (Douglass Bowen-Flynn), who never leaves his house. The kids become determined to woo Boo out, to get a look at him. And old, bent-over crabby neighbor, Mrs. DuBose always scolds the Finch kids, issuing stern warnings to them.
Tension mounts when Tom Robinson’s (fantastic Aaron Dowdy, of Atlanta. Ga.) trial becomes the biggest show in town. Using audience and stage space, Savage has created an historic recreation of a segregated courtroom, with African Americans seated in the balcony gallery, among theatergoers. During the trial, Scout, Jem, and Dill, escaped from the Finches’ watchful, loving caretaker, Calpurnia, (Cheryl D. Singleton), surprising Atticus when the kids are found sitting with the Rev.Sykes, among Negro onlookers.
Kudos to Braha’s skillful directing and Gloucester Stage Company’s youth workshop teacher Heidi Dallin’s leadership. Gloucester 8th-grader Nathaniel Oaks’s portrayal of Jem, Carly Williams as Scout, and 10-year-old Gloucesterite Gabriel Magee interact naturally as curious kids, their timing remarkably professional. Besides being spunky – even taking on an angry mob – Scout also shares tender, loving scenes with her low-key dad, Atticus, (terrific Lewis D. Wheeler).
Tip of the hat to Amanda Collins, who maintains a steady narrating pace as grown-up Jean Louise; Teresa Langford’s quick transition, from Mrs. DuBose to pathetic Mayella; and Cliff Blake, who makes theatergoers cringe with his boorish, redneck demeanor as Robert E. Lee “Bob” Ewell, and evoke pity for his portrayal of needy neighbor Mr. Radley.
Rounding out this fine cast are Thomas Grenon, Thomas Rhett Kee, and Stewart Evan Smith.
BOX INFO: Two-act, drama, novel by Harper Lee, stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel, appearing through Oct. 28, Wednesday-Saturday, and Tuesday, Oct. 24,7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m.; Gloucester Stage Company, 267 E. Main St., Gloucester. $32-$42, senior, 25-under, Cape Ann resident discount tickets. gloucesterstage.com, 978-281-4433.