Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, November 30, 1998

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Richard MacPherson is Atticus and Janel Parrish is
Scout in Chris Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's
"To Kill a Mockingbird."

MVT masters

By John Berger
Special to the Star Bulletin

To Kill a Mockingbird Manoa Valley Theatre. Continuing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 13, $20. Call: 988-6131

Few great novels are successfully adapted into films or plays of equal stature. Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one of the rare exceptions. Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his performance in the highly acclaimed 1962 film. Playwright Christopher Sergel's revised script does a better-than-average job of preserving Lee's memorable prose while condensing a complex story down to manageable size as a two-act drama. Manoa Valley Theatre co-directors David Farmer and Karen Brilliande, and a talented cast, do the rest.

All the ingredients of great theatre are here. All are used.

Janel Parrish (Scout) makes her community theatre debut with a Po'okela Award-caliber performance that would do credit to an actor five or 10 years older. Not all talented young singers are convincing actors, but the petite 10-year-old is consistent and believable in all facets of her large and demanding role -- accent, character, emotions. Parrish is "on" even when she's a silent witness to action elsewhere on stage.

Richard MacPherson's brilliant portrayal of Iago in Kumu Kahua's 1996 staging of "Othello" could have eliminated his chances of ever being cast as a hero in local theatre. It's a tribute to MacPherson's acting skills that he is equally believable here as Scout's soft-spoken, noble, and non-violent attorney father, Atticus Finch. It may take a few minutes for hard-core film fans to get over the fact that MacPherson isn't Gregory Peck, but he easily makes the role his own.

MacPherson's handling of the courtroom scenes couldn't be more compelling. Don't be surprised if the audience breaks into spontaneous applause when he finishes his final courtroom monologue. MacPherson certainly deserves it!

The courtroom dialogue comes straight from the novel. So does almost everything else, although Maude Atkinson (Betty Burdick) replaces Scout as the narrator. Sergel also moves much faster than Lee into the rape case that propels the action.

A black man charged with raping a white woman in Alabama had no chance at all for a fair trail in 1935, but Atticus agreed to defend Tom Robinson anyway -- and not just go through the motions of doing so. Courtroom testimony leaves little doubt that Robinson is innocent but the jury convicts him anyway. Atticus and his children are vilified by many of the townspeople -- even many of the "decent" ones.

Russell Motter is villainy personified as racist lying white trash Bob Ewell. Motter wears the role like a foul second skin and erases any suspicions that Ewell might have a redeeming quality or two. Motter has a fine partner in bigotry in Liesl Lynne Patterson as Ewell's abused, benighted and bigoted daughter.

Sean Scott (Tom Robinson) makes the most of his big scene. How can a black man charged with rape save his life by telling the truth under oath without committing the capital crime of saying that the white folks are lying? Prior knowledge of the social milieu -- or a quick rereading of Lee's novel -- helps appreciate how good Scott is at portraying a man who knows he's in a no-win situation.

Kahele Koenig (Heck Tate) is a cipher for most of the show but shows what he can do in a key scene that illuminates other moral issues; it's his first local show, but won't be his last. Rose Marie Barbee! (Calpurnia) is cast counter to the usual "black mammy" stereotype but proves a force to be reckoned with as the Finch kids' defacto mother.

Daniel Dabbs (Jem Finch) and Duncan Dalzell (Dill) do well in roles that are smaller on stage than in Lee's novel. Larry Blanchard, Gregory Scott Harris, Robbie Lui, Lee Ruggles, and David Schaeffer complete the cast with convincing portrayals of various friends, neighbors and free-lance bigots.

Kurt Wormli and David Minkoff share credit for a simple but satisfactory set. Some of Jason Taglianetti's sound effects were more effective than others on opening night, but he and Ed James (Lighting Design) create an interesting sense of time and place. James embellishes the courtroom set with small details well worth noticing.

Do It Electric!

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