To Kill a Mockingbird

The Villa Playhouse Theatre continues to stretch its ever-growing dramatic muscles with a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” that is emotionally rich and well-acted, while remaining very simple and understated.

Of course, the story itself is simple. We’re told in the first two minutes that mockingbirds don’t eat anyone’s garden, nor do they do any other harm, and that to kill one would be an outright sin. You don’t have to have seen very many plays to know what that means: Some character will be shown to be as harmless as a mockingbird, and then will be killed.

The simpleness of the story is part of its impact, though, as it is told mostly through the eyes of a child — Scout Finch (Madelyn Tucker), a tomboyish girl living in segregated Alabama in 1935. Her dad, Atticus (Bill Brown), is a lawyer defending a black man charged with the rape of a white woman — a crime he clearly did not commit.

The racial tensions involved polarize the town, but not to a huge degree — again, this is through the eyes of a child who barely knows what “rape” is. The drama here is mostly beneath the surface.

Young Madelyn Tucker is outstanding as Scout. Good child actors are hard to come by, but she’s a little fireball, holding her own with the grownups, including Bill Brown, who exudes authority and love as the patriarchal Atticus Finch.

Veteran Villa director Kathleen Nutt clearly knows her audience. Dramas don’t do nearly as well as comedies and musicals in this area, so she keeps this one as audience-friendly as she can. The length (less than 2 hours) is appealing, and the scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, so the action literally never stops.

The tone is also generally fairly light, despite the heavy drama at the center of it — and perhaps it’s too light at times. Some comedy is inherent (like the judge’s declaration, “Let the record show that the witness has not been sassed”); some, like having the judge’s call for a 10-minute recess coincide with the show’s intermission (and our being told that by cast members), is a little silly.

The show still has impact in its finale, though, sneaking up on you with emotion you weren’t expecting, what with the near-levity that prevails prior to it. It’s a strong show for a theater that seems to get better with each production.

I wonder if the sheriff, Heck Tate, is named Hell Tate when the play is performed outside of Utah?