Pendragon Theatre’s production of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird is on the road throughout the Adirondack Park and beyond. The two-act play was adapted by Christopher Sergel and first performed in 1987 in England. Since that time the play has been performed in schools and theatres around the world to great acclaim.
Set in 1930 Alabama at the height of the Great Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on the intense class and racial tensions of the time as seen through the eyes of young Scout Finch. Narrated by the adult Scout, the coming of age story tackles such complex issues as interracial relationships, segregation and sterotypes. As Scout’s father Atticus, a lawyer, defends a black man accused of raping a poor white girl, the characters in the town expose their own bigotry. Throughout the story are themes of courage, innocence and the moral failures of society.
Pendragon Founder and Managing Director Bob Pettee, who also plays Atticus Finch, says, “The version we at Pendragon Theatre chose to do is the only authorized version of the book. Harper Lee talked to Christoper Segel directly. The version that we’ve chosen does not have the older character of Scout, like in the movie. We felt the (Segel) version told the story more directly.” Pettee says, “ To Kill A Mockingbird is a universal story, so simple, so direct. The Boo Radley character becomes so fictionalized, larger than life and then finally known to just be human.”
Pettee comments on the larger issues that are addressed in the play with “man’s ability to be inhuman.” Pendragon Theare recently had received a letter from a teacher thanking the cast for the school performance. The teacher had overheard two students from his English class comparing the injustices of To Kill A Mockingbird with the injustices of the class reading assignment The Lottery. The teacher felt that the unprompted discussion of two pieces of literature from his students was powerful.
“I think this play has opened up conversations where children have an access to this material based on the age of the actors in this piece. The three kids we have are just dynamite, are solid performers ranging from 6th to 8th grade. They are very accomplished and adapt to the other spaces and it is a real treat to have them involved.”
“It is challenging to take a play on the road but we have a lot of experience,” says Pettee. “From an actor’s point of view it is good to see how we will connect this piece with a new audience. The Pendragon (home) theatre is a more intimate theatre where a larger performance space presents differently and we (the actors) still have to connect and be genuine and real for the audience.”
Pendragon actor Donna Moschek brings the part of Miss Maudie to life and says, “This version of the play uses Maudie as the narrator, not an older Scout, which is interesting. I think it’s a good choice because Maudie represents the female role model that Scout most admires in the novel and certainly takes a moral stand. I loved Maudie in the novel and I love her in the play because she is an inescapably part of this small town, but she believes it is possible for change to happen.”
Moschek says, “I think this play and the novel are still relevant and will always be relevant as long as racism, oppression and prejudice still exist. It’s the idea that prejudice can be so quietly present and so accepted that no one even notices what it can do. No one questions. I think the play and the book teach us that looking closely at our beliefs and our actions could be what saves us from making a decision based on prejudice, or a stereotype we have in our minds. If we can be aware of it, we can move to change it in ourselves and in others.”
To Kill A Mockingbird can be seen at SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam (7:00 p.m.) on Friday, February 3; at SUNY Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh (7:00 p.m.) on Friday, February 10; at Pendragon’s Home Theatre, Saranac Lake (7:30 p.m.) on Saturday, February 11; at The View, Old Forge (7:00 p.m.) on Thursday March 1; Main Street Landing PAC, Burlington VT (7:30 p.m.) on Friday, March 9; and the Tannery Pond Community Center, North Creek (7:30 p.m.) on March 16.
Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities for the Tri-Lakes (Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake) and High Peaks. Her next book of family activities will come out this summer 2012.