To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite novel, so I had mixed feelings about seeing the play based on it. But a friend gave me tickets to take my granddaughter to a performance. Miss B. is ten, and has neither read the book nor seen the film adaptation. I asked my daughter’s advice about how to field questions that might be evoked by the darker aspects of the story, and, bolstered by her good sense, we set forth.
“This is awesome!” Miss B. announced when she caught sight of the stage scenery, and by the time the lights dimmed, she was bubbling with excitement. My own enthusiasm was kindled by hers, and we shared smiles as the play began. The familiar words from the first pages of the book brought Maycomb, Alabama to life once more. Soon we were caught up in the lives of Scout and Jem and Atticus Finch. Dill showed up, and the painful demise of Tom Robinson was sketched in several scenes.
The minimalist stage setting smoothly transformed from Scout’s house to the jail to the courtroom. The actor who played Atticus Finch was physically similar to Gregory Peck, and I wondered how successful a short, portly actor could ever be in the role. The children were good in their parts. The main difference in the dramatic version was the personification of the book narrator. The young woman who played the grown-up Scout provided the transitions between scenes and, as she stayed on stage throughout the play, took on emotional power along with the adult perspective she provided.
The most electric moment came at the end, when the two Scouts, child and adult, turned to each other in grief. In that instant, my sense of nostalgia about the book and the movie burst into fresh sorrow at this most American of stories. While enthusiastic applause rang out, I fought against the tears in my throat. As Miss B. and I made our way out of the theater, she asked me, “Why were you crying at the end, Nama?” And I told her the truth. “I always cry at the end of that story.”