Small theater company packs a powerhouse punch

 

To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus Finch (Kevin Driver) questioning Mayella Ewell (Lindsay Blenkarn) during the trial of Tom Robinson in the production of To Kill a Mockingbird by The Centerstage Theatre Company.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Atticus Finch

On a lazy Sunday afternoon you’d never expect to be completely transported to another time, another place. A place wrought with racial injustices and social tensions. Where a man is not judged by the content of his character, but judged with deep seeded bigotry by the color of his skin.  Common respect and decency is discarded in this era, because of fear.

Harp Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is set in the early 1930’s in the small fictional Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama.

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A town set in its ways where racism (along with knowing your place) is as common as baking a cake. The Centerstage Theatre Company effortlessly transports you to this time and place through set imagery, detailed costume design and powerful cast performances. The main story follows Jean Louise Finch (Scout- played as an adult by Kathleen Jaffe and as a child by Ella Kate Pine), her brother Jeremy (played by Brendan Bell) and their father Atticus Finch (played by Kevin Driver). Their lives, along with those of the residents of the town, are forever changed by the events of the accusation and subsequent trial of Tom Robinson (played by Thomas Tapley), a black man accused of raping white woman, Mayella Ewell (played by Lindsay Blenkarn).

The artistic directors of The Centerstage Theatre Company, Mitchell Vantrease and Brady Quisberg, knew the subject matter would be tough for audiences to hear. The language used by the performers and the unflinching emotional subject matter seen on the stage is something the audience can and will be offended by. The group bravely tackled this head on with scenes that not only resonate with you but can be related to continually held viewpoints even to this day in modern society.

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Sheriff Heck Tate (Nick Woodruff) speaking to Atticus Finch (Kevin Driver) as Scout (Ella Kate Pine), Helen Robinson (Taria Vantrease), Stephanie Crawford (Donna Driver) and Maudie Atkinson (Melanie Ray) look on.

As a member of the audience I was totally immersed in the play. In a live performance the presence of the actors and their delivery contributes greatly to transporting you to their world. All of the actors did a fascinating job with each character. Their nuanced performances allowed you to feel what they were feeling. Their body language allowed you to understand the volumes communicated even through unspoken dialogue.

The actors, though very capable, were not the only ones behind these great performances. The play was directed by Mitchell Vantrease while Samantha Brannoch served as assistant director. Together they played a huge role in the atmosphere, pace and tone of the play. As I mentioned before, heavy subject matter was addressed during this play.

The actors ranged in all ages from children to adults and they had to completely become their characters. No detail was overlooked by the directors and their creative team. Something as simple as the gait of Bob Ewell or the emotions of Scout or how Boo Radley (played by Roger Davis) could with a well timed facial expression make the audience understand why the town thought he was just plain weird. It was truly impressive. Even more so because Mr. Vantrease was full of intense energy and followed the play as if he was performing it himself. He knew every line, every placement, every transition and every impactful moment. The directors and creative team held countless auditions to find the right mix of actors. They spent hours with their performers so they could develop the right chemistry and portray emotional moments. Moments of realism, with such power that it would resonate within you deeply.

For example one such powerful moment came during the trial of Tom Robinson. This sequence in particular was just wrought with tension.  Because To Kill a Mockingbird is such a classic I’m not giving away too much by discussing a portion of Tom’s trial. During the trial Tom was called to the stand to testify. At this point Atticus Finch had done a masterful job asking pointed questions to Bob Ewell (played by Doug Allen), Mayella and Tom. The prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer (played by Dylan Boyce), could feel the trial slipping away. So it was time for him to switch tactics.

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The trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mr. Boyce stood up and removed his jacket. He then began to roll up each of the sleeves on his buttoned up shirt with slow very deliberate action. It was as if you saw a man working out in his mind how he was going to pummel someone. At that moment he verbally laid into Tom as he sat on the witness stand. In character, he directed questions of controlled fury. Every questioned ended was antagonistic and ended disrespectfully with the word “boy”. It was cringe worthy to say the least. Mr. Tapley to his credit handled it beautifully in character. You could see the struggle in his face. You could feel the continuous internal battle to control the octave in his voice when answering questions. You see him not wanting to give into the emotion of rage. He wanted to retaliate but he had to maintain that balance between retaliation and calm.

The performance allowed the audience to witness the struggle of a black man in a 1930’s courtroom as he tries to maintain dignity and respect.  What made this even more amazing was when I spoke to the actors afterwards the explained how these additional expresses and nuances were added to the performance. The two worked together for hours to get the feeling just right. I have to say they accomplished this goal to perfection. A well deserved acknowledgment of appreciation.  Just powerful.

This was a great production and performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. By the end of the play I was just filled with the emotion of all of the subjects tackled through this story. There were times I laughed, times I was angry, times I was shocked and times I was just saddened. I for one am glad to have been present to view this play. This kind of quality production is something The Centerstage Theatre Company is becoming known for.  They are continuing to produce high quality productions. Next up is Charlotte’s Web. I’m sure it will be equally amazing.

Check out my previous blog post about triplets Celebrating a remarkable milestone birthday

Or even the  10 things I’ve learned in photography

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