Prime Stage Theatre has kicked off its 20th-anniversary season with a not-to-miss production of the beloved literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which continues to play for two weekends at the New Hazlett Theater in the North Side.
One of the best parts of this two-act show, which runs two hours plus an intermission, comes with the double-casting of the Scout character. One actress – Samantha A. Camp, who recently returned to Pittsburgh after 11 years in the Tacoma, Washington area – plays the adult, who goes by the proper name of Jean Louise Finch. The adult Scout serves as a reminiscing narrator whom the other characters don’t see. With a good Southern accent reflecting the story’s 1935 Maycomb, Alabama setting, she talks to the audience as she looks back on this dramatic time in her life, and sometimes – like during the trial of Tom Robinson – she sits quietly and watches for long stretches of time.
The tomboyish child Scout – played very well by double-braided, overalls-clad sixth-grader Grace Vensel – captures and brings to the stage the spunk of the literary character. During the opening and closing scenes, the adult and child Scouts face each other across the Finch’s front porch and hum a sweet tune.
Author Harper Lee’s bestseller – adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, and directed for Prime Stage by Scott P. Calhoon – comes to life on stage in this condensed version and captures the feel and theme of the novel. The theater did a good job of creating a stage scene with little room, portraying three house fronts in a Maycomb neighborhood, with an American flag hung off the Finch’s porch, and a spooky look at the Radley house. Strings hung from the ceiling over a mock tree, depicting the Spanish moss trees common in the South. A tire swing hung near the Finch porch. Then, in the second act, the central stage scenery changed to depict a courtroom with a witness chair and lawyer tables.
Actor Brian Ceponis – a former professional volleyball player who has acted in TV shows including “NCIS” – gives a solid performance as the gentle, patient, smart and moral Atticus Finch, who sets an example for his children and the townspeople. Brian Starks gives a moving performance as Tom Robinson, the man falsely accused of sexual assault by a white woman.
The To Kill a Mockingbird story contains a timeless lesson that is just as relevant today: Don’t judge and hurt people who have done nothing to hurt anyone else. The mockingbirds in this story are the African-American Tom Robinson, who tragically is convicted of a rape he clearly didn’t do because of his skin color; and Arthur “Boo” Radley, the mysterious neighbor thought to be a monster. But as it turns out, the hermit Boo is just a socially awkward but harmless character who saves the lives of Scout and Jem when they are attacked at the end. If we look around us, it wouldn’t be difficult to find metaphorical mockingbirds in our world.
To Kill a Mockingbird continues through Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Special thanks to Prime Stage for complimentary press tickets. Tickets are $25 to $30 for adults, $20 to $25 for age 63 and older, and $12 to $17 for kids under 18. Details: 724-773-0700 or primestage.com