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THEATER REVIEW: “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Harper Lee tells us it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird because they cause no harm, but only give pleasure with their song.

Lee’s 1960 classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” tells the story of two metaphorical mockingbirds harmed by a society rife with prejudice and injustice, wrapped in a story of growing up in the Depression-era South, seen through the eyes of six-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Katelyn Katz) and narrated by the grown-up Jean Louise (Kristianne Kurner).

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1962 and adapted for the stage in 1990 by Christopher Sergel. The stage version plays through May 5 at New Village Arts Theatre. Kristianne Kurner and Justin Lang share directorial responsibilities.

Scout, her older brother Jem (Dylan Nalbandian) and their friend Dill (based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote and played here by Matthew Mohler) spend a languid 1935 summer in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, doing what kids do. They are fascinated, even frightened by neighborhood recluse Boo Radley, who apparently never leaves the house.

Jem makes childish attempts to roust Boo from his nest, but is caught by his father, Atticus Finch (Manny Fernandes), who explains, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”

Jem’s father Atticus (Manny Fernandes) is the lawyer who has just been appointed to defend the other “mockingbird,” black man Tom Robinson, wrongly accused of raping a very poor young white woman named Mayella Ewell (Lauren King).

Given the time and place, not only is there is little hope of acquittal, but Atticus is reviled and the kids taunted as “nigger lovers” by the kids at school. When Scout asks her father why he’s defending Tom, he explains that he has to because “I couldn’t hold my head up if I didn’t.”

“To Kill A Mockingbird,” Lee’s only novel, has taken its place in the history of the American civil rights movement (much to Lee’s surprise). Unfortunately, it is still relevant.

Tim Wallace’s fine, even expansive set has an unfortunate way of swallowing the lines of this fine cast of committed actors, especially the young and less experienced ones.

Manny Fernandes is a standout as Atticus, the moral center of the piece.

Kurner is excellent as narrator Jean Louise, explaining and watching without either dominating or getting in the way.

Also fine are Yolanda Franklin as Atticus’ housekeeper Calpurnia, Jim Winkler as the sheriff, Durwood Murray as Tom Robinson. Eric Poppick in two small parts, David Macy-Beckwith as the judge and Kathi Copeland as “mean” neighbor Mrs. Dubose.

Katz, Nalbandian and Mohler offer lovely, natural portrayals of Scout, Jem and Dill, but could use a bit better diction, especially in the first act.

Point of law: Whether or not it’s a sin, federal law requires a permit to kill migratory birds.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” needs to be seen (and read) until society stops killing those innocent songbirds. New Village Arts offers a good opportunity.

The details

“To Kill A Mockingbird” plays through May 4 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.