Review by Danny Gaisin
One of my last dates before moving to Toronto in 1962 was to see Gregory Peck (& a young Mary Badham) in Universal’s ‘Hat Trick’ Oscar® winner – To kill a Mocking Bird. The movie had a narrator, but director Nigel Williams has opted to have a grown up Jean Louise Finch (aka ‘Scout’) on stage and even recite some of the more poignant dialogue with her younger self. The synchronizing between Irene Poole and Clara Poppy Kushnir dovetails with perfection and total effectiveness. Kushnir IS ‘Scout’ and with her brother ‘Jem’ ( Jacob Skiba) and Hunter Smalley as their friend ‘Dill’, are a powerhouse triumvirate.
Individually & together they are pivotal catalysts for the play’s progress and concept.
The plot deals with a small town in Alabama circa early 30’s with the South’s rampant segregation being endemic. Scout & Jem’s father Atticus is a local lawyer and a man of steadfast morality and liberalism. Jonathan Goad plays him as loving but rather stiff and somewhat inflexible. The playbill does not highlight the usual directorial opinion or raison d’etre for his or her conception but I opt for Nigel Shawn Williams aim is to affect his audience; especially given the racial discord that’s consistently in today’s Stateside news reports. Even on our side of the 49th, there is occasional enmity and even ill will between the colour line.
Kushnir has a highly animated face that underscores or emphasizes her dialogue and mirrors an amazing range of emotion. Her dealing with the Finch household’s maid, Sophia Walker; her relationship with both her brother and her friend ring authentic. I can recall behaviour scintilla’s of my own when I was their ages. Even Dill’s comment “ I’m little, but I’m old” reflects a pre-teen Danny G, and even more so to the Danny of 2018!
As happens ofttimes, its the supporting roles that stand out. As a curmudgeonly old neighbour, Marion Adler gives her usual over-the-top contribution; and the father/daughter duo of Randy Hughson & Jonelle Gunderson are epitomically the poor white trash that are a stereotype. Surprisingly, both received loud applause for their thespian ism even though their characters are totally & sleazily blemished. As the accused, Matthew G. Brown seethes with the veracity and kindness that ultimately will seal his doom.
However, its Tim Campbell’s local sheriff and friend to Finch that appropriates the play, even from the star and the three kids. His ‘Heck Tate’ sure ain’t perfect but he’s ware of his limitations and has enough cojones to admit failings and inadequacies. One feels the respect and relationship between him and Atticus. Campbell intimidates just by standing silent and observant. His denouement argument with Goad over the demise of Hughson actually had this somewhat jaded scribe start to tear up. The man has charisma that projects all the way to the last row.
Even if one has (hopefully) read the book or saw the movie …see the play and THEN rent the Peck interpretation. Don’t do it in the reverse order or you’ll be sorry!
“TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD” is at the Festival Theatre and Stratford has just announced a run-extension until November.