Foothills' 'To Kill' stands on its own

Young actors' portrayals unpretentious

By Paul Kolas
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Monday, Jan. 10, 2005

WORCESTER-- The indolent, accumulative power of Harper E. Lee's semiautobiographical classic of racial injustice, "To Kill a Mockingbird," was on full display yesterday at Foothills Theatre.

Bob Dolan's finely attuned direction, Anita Fuchs' evocative yet lean set design, Jason Rainone's atmospheric lighting, Ed Thurbur's spare yet resourceful sound design, and Kurt Hultgren's diligent costuming all create a palpable sense of time and place: the 1935 Alabama of Lee's childhood, embodied by "Scout" Finch and recollected throughout this marvelous production by her grown-up alter ego, Jean Louise.

It's probably a wise idea to screen out memories of the famed movie.

It wouldn't be fair to John Little and his beautifully modulated portrayal of Atticus Finch, a part made immortal by Gregory Peck. Little brings his own brand of decency, humanism and fatherly concern to the character. He is equally at ease in scenes involving the three main children in the story as he is dealing with the impending trial of Tom Robinson, a young black man accused of raping a white girl, and its tragic conclusion. His summation speech at the trial is delivered with such eloquence and dignity, it's the defining moment not only of his performance, but the dramatic resume of all Atticus stands for.

Dolan has elicited outstanding contributions from his well-chosen cast.

Lee wrote her story from Scout's point of view, a child learning what it's like to "walk around in another person's skin." Christopher Sergel's adaptation relies heavily on narration, and Deanna Dunmyer is heart-rending as Jean Louise Finch.

There is never a moment when one feels she is obtrusiveto the narrative flow. Dunmyer's final scene is a voice-cracking epiphany of emotion: looking across the stage at the girl she once was, running into her father's arms in a state of euphoric understanding.

All three young actors in the. cast are blessedly free of affectation and act like real kids. Sophie Rich is a perfect blend of innocence and impudence as Scout, no better illustrated than in the lynching scene, when she defuses a potentially violent situation with some kind words to Walter Cunningham (acted by Owen Doyle with a blend of diffidence and shame the part calls for) about his son.

Daniel Plimpton plays her brother Jem with assured and appealing understatement. He's a natural young actor with a touch of Huck Finn about him. In stark contrast, Connor Moynihan may have the most flamboyant part as Dill, often regarded as a stand-in for Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote, and he makes the most of it.

Malik McMullen improves on Brock Peter's film portrait of Tom Robinson, interpreting the part more pragmatically and less theatrically. He tones down the urge to play it defiantly in his courtroom testimony, yet retains the dignity of the character in quieter ways.

Edwin McDonough is another standout as the town sheriff, Heck Tate, full of conviction and weary disgust for his fellow citizens. David Hansen is brilliant as the evil, racist Bob Ewell, a smirking vile of hatred, matched by the bruised, kicked-dog intensity of Zofia Goszcznska as his daughter Mayella Ewell.

Vivid, too, are Davis Ellsworth as Judge Taylor, Dawn Tucker as the town gossip, Miss Stephanie, Mary Dennis as the neighboring Miss Maudie, Gwen   Mason as the ailing and contentious Mrs. Dubose, and Tina Gaffney as the Finches' righteous maid Calpurnia.