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Impressive University of Oklahoma cast brings life to Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'



To Kill a Mockingbird
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
University of Oklahoma
School of Drama
Weitzenhoffer Theatre
563 Elm Ave., Norman
$22 adults, $18 seniors

Adapted from Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" tells the story of a heavily segregated Alabama town in 1935 that's torn apart over the alleged rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell, by a black man, Tom Robinson, and the ensuing trial. When fair-minded attorney Atticus Finch is appointed to defend the accused, his entire family is pulled into the chaos.

Paul Stuart may not look 50, but in every other way, he embodies the authority, wisdom and flaws of Finch. His measured tone and deliberate speech point to a man of great reason and even greater conscience.

As Sheriff Heck Tate, Jordan Brodess manages to not just look and sound the part, but has uncannily re-created the physicality of an older man burdened by a lifetime's accumulation of pains, both physical and emotional.

In a play full of great performances, eighth-grader Alyssa Danley stands out for her understanding of the material and her earnest portrayal of Atticus' impetuous daughter, Scout. She is supported by college students Stephen Ibach as her brother, Jem, and Joey Hines as their friend Dill, both of whom convincingly play much younger than their age.

The centerpiece of the story is the riveting trial, where both accuser and accused have their time on the stand, and both actors portraying them deliver emotionally devastating performances. As 19-year-old Mayella, Mary Black somehow channels all the hurt, rage and conflicted feelings going through the head of this traumatized girl into a raw, emotional performance that feels unnervingly real. As Tom, Jonathan Hooks is quiet, noble and terrified as he answers the questions of the lawyers. The third person that comes to prominence during the trial is Mayella's vile and terrifying father, Bob, played with sheer abandon by Brandon Christopher Simmons.

Thanks to a wonderful set, sharp sound and lighting design, authentic-looking costumes and a truly amazing ensemble, there are times when the world onstage seems absolutely real and tangible. This is helped along by choices like having the lawyers in the trial address the first two rows of the audience as the jury, or when a 15-minute court recess doubles as the intermission, and rather than leave the stage, most of the cast remains to maintain the reality.

Despite being overly reliant on stilted voiceover, director Tom Huston Orr has created an engrossing and moving production that succeeds in presenting the spirit of the novel. While segregation may be a thing of the past, Lee's frank, honest story still has much teach us about what it's like to be in another person's skin. "?Eric Webb


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