It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, and a shame to miss this ‘Mockingbird,’ now at the Weston Playhouse

By Karen Zuppinger

There are few things more Southern than sweet tea, molasses on hot buttermilk biscuits or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Arguably one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, and one of the best film adaptations of all time, what could a stage production offer that the book and movie have not?

Scout, played by Kelsey McCullough, with her father Atticus Finch, played by //Photos by Tim Fort.

Scout, played by Kelsey McCullough, with her father Atticus Finch, played by James Lloyd Reynolds. Photos by Tim Fort.

Those familiar with the story may have expected the first person they’d see on stage to be a 6-year-old Scout. Instead, in Weston Playhouse’s final production of the season, we are greeted by the exquisite Elizabeth Morton as the adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.  While the film used a voice-over, the in-person device adds an extra layer to the fabric of this complex narrative. We understand we are in a memory, and memories are both tricky and defining. Memory as a tool allows Harper Lee to redefine themes as large as race, class and economic justice experienced as a child in adult terms. And the beauty of Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation and Malcolm Ewen’s direction brings these issues to us in full 3-D.

As soon as the audience enters the theater, it encounters a set design by Blair Mielnik of houses adorned with porches, screened doors, flower boxes and black trees growing out of green walls. It’s nothing short of a time machine transporting us back to 1935 Maycomb, Ala., where tempers are as hot as the 4th of July and the n-word rolls off the tongue as easily as a gospel hymn.

The set is nothing short of a time machine transporting us back to 1935 Maycomb, Ala., where tempers are as hot as the 4th of July and the n-word rolls off the tongue as easily as a gospel hymn.

It is here that we first meet the precocious 6-year-old Scout (the brilliant Kelsey McCullough), her 10-year-old bossy brother Jem (the talented Andrew Foster), and Dill (the gifted Issac Freitas-Eagan) an imaginative 7-year-old from Meridian, Miss., who is spending the summer with his aunt. All of these talented young actors are from Vermont.

We soon learn from Scout and Jem that they are the offspring of widower Atticus Finch (played by with an outstanding refinement by James Lloyd Reynolds), a lawyer who is so old (he’s 50) that he can’t do anything that other fathers can do like hunt, fish or throw a football. He’s defending a Negro accused of raping a white woman, which is doing nothing to advance their lot in life. They are also looked after by their cook Calpurnia (the gorgeous and talented Thursday Farrar).

Dill on the other hand is the product of a mother and stepfather who can buy him anything he wants but are unable to give him the only things he needs, their love and attention.


From left, Scout, Jem, Calpurnia, Atticus and Sheriff Heck Tate spy a rabid dog in Weston Playhouse’s production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ through Saturday, Sept. 7.

The three friends fill their summer trying to coax a reclusive Boo Radley (played with the stillness and grace of a Sunday morning by Munson Hicks) out of his home, dealing with an ornery old morphine addicted neighbor Mrs. Dubose (superbly acted by veteran Barbara Lloyd), and retrieving secret gifts left for them in the hole of a tree. While Atticus does his best to instill in his children honesty and courage and the values of being a good neighbor, most of this rolls off them like water over stone. It’s not until Atticus guns down a rabid dog with one shot do the children see value in their father, forever referring to him as the best shot in Maycomb County.

Act I ends with the trial inside the courthouse, the only interior scene in the play. Four people take the stand: Sheriff Heck Tate (Jeff Williams); Bob Ewell (Stephen Lee Anderson), the father of the alleged victim; the alleged victim Mayella Ewell (Theresa Kloos); and the accused, Tom Robinson (Stewart Evan Smith). Here we get to experience the ugliness of hate up-close as Bob Ewell rises and falls on the stand, finger pointing, face contorting and yelling out false accusations as though possessed by the devil. Kloos is a revelation as Mayella, a lonely poor white girl caught red-handed by her bigoted father seeking comfort in the arms of a black man. Kloos’ Mayella shifts from confusion to anger to discomfort as she squirms in the witness chair desperately trying to make sense of the lie she’s weaving, pointing to Atticus Finch and his “court room trickery” as the thing she is most afraid of, knowing full well that it is her conscious that’s leaving her in knots. Lastly we get to see what truth looks like when Tom Robinson takes the stand and recounts with clarity the evidence that only truth can provide. Robinson testifies that he helped Mayella time and again for no other reason than he felt sorry for her.

And there lies the crux of the crime for which Robinson is truly on trial, for “having the temerity” as Finch notes in his closing, to feel sorry for a white woman. Who the hell does Robinson think he is? The Ewells may be poor white trash but they are still white, and that means something in the natural order of things.

The brilliance of the play is putting the audience members in the position of jurors. As Act I concludes we are asked to deliberate based on the evidence presented. During intermission one wonders – more than 50 years after the novel was published – how many people take time to reflect on the current hatred toward the temerity of that “foreigner” in the White House; the temerity of a 17-year-old black kid to walk through a neighborhood; the temerity of African-Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The cast will be performing for more than 20 schools. The children who see the play will be the jurors of the future. Perhaps the injustice they experience in their youth will positively impact the people they become as adults.

Maudie Atkinson (Susan Haefner), Judge Taylor (Ron Crawford), Stephanie Crawford (Amy Van Nostrand), Rev. Sykes (Danny Johnson), Walter Cunningham (Christopher Donahue) and Helen Robinson (Cloteal L. Horne), round out this fine cast.

Costume design by Barbara Bell, lighting design by Ann Wrightson, and sound design and original music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen complete the fine production.

To Kill A Mockingbird continues at the Weston Playhouse through Saturday, Sept. 7. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; with matinees at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday. The Weston Playhouse is located at 703 Main St. in Weston. 802-824-5288.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.