By Philip Pearce
SANTA CATALINA SCHOOL Theatre Arts is marking the new year with a beautifully mounted and pleasing stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Little needs to remind you it’s a perceptive Southern woman’s backward look at moral lessons learned from her benevolent lawyer dad Atticus Finch during her childhood in depression era Alabama. Central to Scout Finch’s growth in compassion and social vision was her father’s heroic legal defense of a black man falsely accused of sexually assaulting a local white girl.
Christopher Sergel’s adaptation has always struck me (this is my fourth viewing of his work) as too reverently faithful to everything that happens in a well-loved novel. As a piece of theater, it’s busy and episodic at the expense of focus and dramatic tension. True, it reaches a strong theatrical high point in the trial of Tom Robinson, but that’s settled about three quarters of the way through the action. The final section of Act 2 covers subsidiary plot strands which may stand up well enough on the printed page but provide a theatre script that’s too full of a lot of incidents and a lot of people.
But for that very reason it provides the kind of potpourri of interesting roles and scene changes that are an ideal showcase for the impressive acting talents and advanced technical resources of a drama department like Santa Catalina’s. The direction by Catalina alumna Lara Wheeler Devlin is slick and the scene design by Nicole Anne Bryant Stephens sensitively detailed and flexible. The acting, on the whole, is commendably informed and mature.
With a total of 22 speaking parts, it seems unfair not to move into a lengthy list of praiseworthy performances, many in smaller roles, but I’ll just apologetically say the cast have a good grasp of characterization, though some of them sometimes cave in to the young performer’s tendency to miss key plot points by a rushed and breathy line delivery.
A major exception is Cayleigh Capaldi, whose incisive and clear-spoken Atticus can consistently take the moral high ground without seeming the least bit smug or preachy. As Scout, Nicole Korinetz, along with her brother Jem (Mackenzie Roth) and their buddy Dill (Bella Borgomini) are a convincingly energetic trio of neighborhood imps learning to fit gradually into local society without conforming to its darker racist attitudes. Favorite of the enthusiastic opening night audience was clearly Sofia Whitley, who won a couple of spontaneous and well-deserved rounds of applause as a wise, feisty and adorable Calpurnia.
The play continues Friday at 12:45 and Saturday at 7:30.