REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird

Park Square Theatre’s take on Harper Lee’s classic novel resonates with passion, honesty, integrity, and heart.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the kind of story that evolves and grows as you yourself age. The first time you read it, probably a forced event by your eighth grade English teacher, the elements that likely resonated most were the surface-level, giggle-inducing details: the repeated use of the “N” word, Scout and Jem calling their dad by his first name, the kids’ plans to sneak-attack Boo Radley, Scout’s ham costume. The second time around, be it by choice or a Freshman-year reading requirement, the novel reads completely differently. Suddenly you notice the countless layers of racism and segregation, prejudice and social status, the conflict between staying true to one’s roots and embracing the future. And then you read it as an adult, perhaps to help your child interpret Harper Lee’s symbolism for that oh-so-tedious three-page paper assignment or simply to relive one of the greatest stories in American literature. Either way, the pages of the book tell yet another story, the words carry an even deeper meaning, and nuances you missed before become glaringly obvious.

Such is the case with Park Square Theatre’s interpretation of the novel, a powerful, honest portrayal capturing the essence of Lee’s masterpiece in a new yet familiar way. It’s as if the images you’ve conjured of each character and scene in your imagination over the years have been plucked and placed on stage to play out before you instead of within you. While it’s usually quite a risk to stage a serious story told mainly by children, Elizabeth McCormick (Scout), Emma Wondra (Jem), and Jasper Herman (Dill) pull it off beautifully, nailing every line as naturally as an actor with more years of experience than they are old. In fact, Herman’s performance is so genuine and passionate that each scene he appears in seems to revolve around him.

That level of commitment and full-fledged character immersion describes all of Mockingbird’s players at Park Square. From Prentiss Standridge’s expert portrayal of the guilt-ridden Mayella Ewell, to Joel Raney’s creepy, cringe-inducing take on Bob Ewell, to Frederick Wagner’s humble-yet-confident Atticus Finch, the 22-person cast is strong throughout, with even the smallest of roles being treated with impressive diligence and dignity.

As for director David Mann, he preserves the novel’s original structure and message through a literal interpretation and portrayal of the story. While this could result in a dry, predictable performance, Joel Sass’s set, which fully utilizes the medium-sized stage, and the dynamic acting ensure that audiences leave the theater having experienced To Kill a Mockingbird on yet another level of understanding, emotion, and significance, just as Harper Lee intended.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul
$36 and $56
Playing through April 17