One of the most striking elements of the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird is its integration of on-stage musical accompaniment. The original music and traditional arrangements by Tim Grimm (who also plays Heck Tate), performed by Grimm on acoustic guitar and Christopher Waltz (who also plays Boo Radley and Judge Taylor) on banjo, reflect and then heighten the emotional investment of the characters, and therefore the actors, and their subject matter. This seemingly small but powerful element, combined with the feeling of wide-open spaces by scenic designer Bill Clarke, set the tone for the show in a subtle and persuasive way.
The theater chose to revisit one of the most-challenged stories of the American fiction canon with the release of Harper Lee’s equally controversial Go Set a Watchman last summer. However, the topics that Lee explored 56 years ago—racism and human dynamics—remain relevant today.
Under the direction of the IRT’s Executive Artistic Director Janet Allen, Lauren Briggeman as the adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch narrates and comments on the events that occurred during her childhood in 1935 Maycomb, Alabama. She watches as her younger self (Paula Hopkins), her brother Jem (Grayson Molin), and friend Dill (Mitchell Wray) experience the trial that became the center of the community’s and her family’s attention and activity since Scout’s father, Atticus (Ryan Artzberger), defender the black man, Tom Robinson (Daniel A. Martin), who was on trial for the rape of a white woman.
Hopkins, Molin, and Wray handled well what can be a taxing production for kids, as they take up a majority of the stage time. Artzberger convincingly portrays Atticus’s weariness as a man diligently fighting what he knows is a lost cause—but also as an older, single father who tries to lead by example in teaching his kids to do what is right.
Robert Neal is an effective bully as the bullish redneck Bob Ewell, father to the accosted girl (Katherine Shelton). Millicent Wright finds just the right balance between motherly and disciplinarian in Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper. A host of other talents make up the many other characters, who all come together to tell this complicated story masked by its simplicity.