To Kill a Mockingbird // A Review of The Springer Opera House Rendition

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The featured image was taken from The Ledger-Enquirer website.

Let me make one thing very clear before diving into this review. I collect books, and in my not so very long life, I have collected A LOT of them. I have lived all over the country and the one consistent thing I notice about people who have helped me pack my U-Haul is that they absolutely hate helping me with my books. The books are heavy, I am over-protective, and there are a lot of them. I already have a small library in my house and I am more likely to get rid of one of my three dogs (which are like children to me) than I am to get rid of a book, despite the fact it would make my arguably nomadic life a lot easier if I just broke up with some of my old reads.

Among the books people have suggested I dump, due to the tearing spine and sun spotted page edges (a testament to how many times I have read this book), is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird  recently hit The Springer Opera House stage, adapted by Christopher Sergel and directed by Paul Pierce. I entered The Springer with high hopes, and to be honest, low expectations, assuming the play would be a watered down version of a book that inspired controversy, dealt with overt prejudice, and required readers to evaluate their conscience. I wondered how a play could adequately portray a book that has sold more than 12 million copies, is a New York Times best seller, and has won a Pulitzer Prize award. You would think by now, as a regular reviewer, that I would have learned that The Springer Opera House, with the help of their amazingly talented cast and crew, does not disappoint.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in 1935 Alabama, in a town where prejudice is the norm. Director Paul Pierce did an excellent job of making sure all independent forms of prejudice throughout the book, were equally represented on the stage, without making racial prejudice the entire focus of the show. The play not only highlighted the obvious racial prejudice that is evident throughout the book, but also represented the book’s other form of prejudice, such as economic prejudice (represented by the Ewells) and the non-conformist prejudice (represented by Boo Radley). I fully expected these themes, and the language that has historically been a part of them, would be diluted or changed for a modern audience, as is done elsewhere all over the country…but then the first “N-Word” was dropped.

Over time, and even in it’s historic use, the “N-Word” was, has become, and is in my opinion (as you can see I won’t be using that word in my review) representative of the worst form of racism. In today’s society, many of the classics have come under fire for their use of the word, and some books have gone as far as to change the verbiage to the word ‘slave’ as opposed to the “N-Word” in order to make the book more palatable.  While I understand the argument, this word is a part of our history, and by removing the word from classic books and plays we are white-washing our past. The choice The Springer, Christopher Sergel, Paul Pierce, and the cast made to maintain this language in the play not only honored the prejudicial experience black individuals have experienced throughout history, but it remained true to the controversial nature of the class book. They honored our past by using the language that was common in 1935, though our past (and often times our present) has been filled with ugly words and ugly actions towards anyone who isn’t white.

Costume designer Lindsay Schmeling did an excellent job outfitting the cast. The costume designers choices helped to identify each character’s social position. It appeared that hem lines, colors, and fabrics were very true to the fashion in 1935. Even the court room secretary was dressed in a crisp tailored dress and sat with good posture, as opposed to May Ewell who was dressed in a well-worn summer dress, and sat slumped with her toes turned in. Without any dialect, one could guess where each character fell on the social and economic ladder.

Scenic designer Matthew Swindle did an amazing job of setting up the stage. Each house clearly had character, which matched the personality of its occupants. The set, even without moving the main stage around much, easily transitioned between scenes to serve as a neighborhood, as a courthouse, and as a forest. The play even incorporated the audience as part of the set by making the audience into the jury of the Ewell vs. Robinson case.

Though this show has already come to an end, its impact on the viewers has not. This powerful rendition of To Kill a Mockingbird left the audience buzzing after the show, and as equally as fired-up and inquisitive as the book itself. If The Springer can make me feel moved, passionate, shocked, and a little pissed off, they have done their job in reaching the audience. I cannot wait to see what they can do with Sweeney Todd.

Reviewed by Taylor Schwartz


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