Review: Jump-start your love for live, local theatre with Driftwood’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

From left: Nava Ruthfield as Scout, Hersh Powers as Dill and Teddy Shipley as Jem. (Photo by Anabel Hovig)

I recently had a discussion with someone about how reading two or three bad books in a row can really sour a person. What’s needed in a situation like that is one really great book that resurrects your love of reading.

It occurred to me that the same can be said of community theater. What you need to jump-start your enthusiasm for live, local theater, is a really great production. If you find yourself in this predicament, guess what? You’re in luck. I have just the prescription –- and you won’t have to fight traffic or pay for parking.

To Kill a Mockingbird, which runs through Feb. 25 at the Driftwood Theatre, opened last Friday to a sellout crowd. In fact, it sold out the entire opening weekend. Good seats are still available, and in my opinion, you should get some.

This play features so many strong performances that I feel like focusing on the standouts is almost unfair to the rest of the cast. Nevertheless, I must to acknowledge two characters in particular, both of them play Scout.

Young Scout (Nava Ruthfield) gave an exceptional performance delivering her lines and hitting her marks like a pro. In constant motion and the focus of our attention for a large portion of the play, along with her equally talented cohorts Jem (Teddy Shipley) and Dill (Hersh Powers), Ruthfield exhibited a professionalism rarely seen in one so young. This trio of young actors already have resumes that would rival actors twice their age, and their skill on stage is a big reason Mockingbird works so well.

Hannah Destiny Lynn was stellar in the role of Jean Louise (adult Scout) — her narrative and acting was lucid and confident. As she led the audience through this classic tale, I felt as though I was listening to Harper Lee herself. I’ve always found it a sad irony that some of the most mellifluous Southern accents hail from our country’s most shameful hotbeds of racism.

Eric Wright’s set design is one of the most elaborate and ambitious I’ve seen at Driftwood. I think an IKEA designer would want to congratulate him. Everything so nicely slid right into place. As the lights dimmed between scenes, we heard some serious bustling around, and voilà! — when the lights came back up, a quiet small town neighborhood had been magically transformed into a courtroom scene, or a jailhouse exterior. Wright, who is also quite active at the Phoenix Theatre, is apparently the brainchild of this remarkable modular set. All I can say to Mr Wright and the many others who undoubtedly contributed to the construction of this set is, well done!

Our audience sat transfixed during the three Negro spirituals interspersed throughout the course of the play. The rich, resonant voices of Alicia Jones (Calpurnia) and Lillian Afful-Stratton (Helen Robinson) helped evoke a greater depth and deliver the deeper message contained in Mockingbird.

I would be remiss if I did not also pay tribute to director Elizabeth Herbert. I saw her hand in the hundreds of stage directions, suggestions and gestures that generally go unnoticed, yet bring a play to life.

Few plays manage to be charming and amusing, while still focusing on disturbing injustices and human failings that require our contemplation and awareness. It’s hard to walk away from this performance without examining what these issues mean to you. One of Herbert’s stated goals was to engage the audience in a way that will make us reconsider what we know or what we think we know about compassion, social justice and the world we leave to our children. To that end, I applaud her success.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Plays through Sunday, Feb. 25
Thursdays – Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays – 2 p.m.

Wade James Theater
950 Main St.

Ticket and more information here.

— By James Spangler


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