March Onstage / MOCKINGBIRD and more
Road Less Traveled, Buffalo United Artists, and Kavinoky are mounting challenging productions
To Kill a Mockingbird was to be performed at Kavinoky Theatre in March
Photo by Stephen Gabris
Editor's note: Although To Kill a Mockingbird had to be canceled by the Kavinoky Theatre, we have retained our coverage in this online version, as it is still interesting and we wanted to recognize all the work and planning that went into the Kavinoky's now-killed production To learn more about the legal issues behind this cancellation, read this New York Times article, which details what happened to the Kavinoky's and seven other scheduled productions of Mockingbird. The Kavinoky is mounting a production of 1984 instead, March 15–April 7. Tickets for Mockingbird are being honored, or ticket purchasers may receive refunds. Contact the Kavinoky for more information.
To Kill a Mockingbird
1) Synopsis: In 1930s Alabama, white lawyer Atticus Finch is hired to defend Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape.
2) In both the Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the early stage plays, the TKAM story is told predominately from the point of view of Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch, Atticus’s daughter. In Aaron Sorkin’s current 2018 version now playing on Broadway, Atticus Finch has become the protagonist, and Scout, brother Jem, and their friend Dill, are played by adult actors. These and other deviations led to a lawsuit between the Lee estate and producer Scott Rudin. It was ultimately settled in May 2018, months prior to the show’s November 2018 opening to mostly positive reviews.
3) To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only novel; that it still survives today is an astonishing literary accomplishment, particularly because Lee stopped doing publicity for the book in 1964, four years after it was published. An earlier draft of Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, features an adult Scout and was published in 2015.
4) Playwright Horton Foote won an Oscar for his TKAM screenplay that became a 1962 film; in 1990, Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation premiered in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Since then, another writer has adapted Sergel’s adaptation, though all stage presentations until Sorkin’s remain credited to Sergel.
5) The final show at former Studio Arena Theatre was Road Less Traveled Productions’ presentation of the later adaptation. Kavinoky will do this version, still credited to Sergel.
6) What they said about this same version: “The play comes from Christopher Sergel's 1990 adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel about racially motivated injustice and hard-earned lessons of acceptance in the Depression-era Deep South. Though some of the book's subtle humor and a few secondary plot lines have been excised in the interest of flow, the play manages to faithfully preserve the spirit of young Scout Finch; her brother, Jem; father, Atticus; and the entire town of Maycomb, Ala., a motley and sometimes reprehensible cadre of characters."–Colin Dabkowski, Buffalo News
Between Riverside and Crazy
March 8–31 at Road Less Traveled Productions
Lisa Vitrano, Gabriel Robere, and Greg Fisher rehearsing for Between Riverside and Crazy
In 2011, when Road Less Traveled Productions presented The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Stephen Adly Guirgis were co-American Theater Masters, which resurrected their desire to work on a project together. Fast forward to 2014, and Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy opened off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company, starring Henderson as Pops Washington, a wheelchair-bound (to accommodate the actor’s bad hip) ex-cop who was injured on the job, is suing the city, and has opened up his rent controlled Riverside Drive apartment to a group of hard-luck kids. In 2015, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“We did Motherfucker with the Hat, which was a great success for us,” says Road Less Traveled artistic director Scott Behrend. “Around that same time, Jon [Elston, RLTP new play coordinator] and I went to New York to see Riverside, and I thought it was brilliant. That was even before it won the Pulitzer, so it’s been on my radar a long time.”
The play represents some of Guirgis’s best writing, Behrend says: “The dialogue is tremendous, super funny, very Guirgis urban, lots of great street putdowns, colorful metaphors. It’s a cool ride of a show in that sense, but, ultimately, we’re dealing with a diverse group of people and it certainly pushes questions about your value system and what is fair and balanced. Definitely, the ending of the play is unsettling for some people, because you really have to make a choice about what you believe, who is liable and who’s to blame, and what do we take responsibility for?”
Fisher will take on the role Henderson created, but was there ever a chance Buffalo resident Henderson would have done it? “We talked about it, but I think that Steve did it twice for a whole year,” Behrend says. “I don’t think he wants to revisit it anytime soon; I’m not sure he’ll ever revisit it. I think he feels like that was his definitive production of that play. And his career—he’s shooting a TV series now; he’s got plenty to do. This particular group of actors is gonna be fun to work with and I haven’t gotten to do a Guirgis play since Judas, so I’m excited to dive into the psychoses of some of these characters.”
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