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'Mockingbird' first act disappoints, second saves show

It’s interesting to see stories originally told through one medium adapted into others. With some, it is graceful like when the play Glengarry Glen Ross was adapted into the classic 1992 film. With some stories it is disastrous, like when an action blockbuster Transformers 3 is novelized.

Good Company Players’ stage production of Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, manages to be neither fantastic nor terrible. Or rather, it’s both.

The play takes place, like the novel, in the small Alabama town of Maycomb in the 1930s. The first act follows the fairly mundane lives of the Finch family. Atticus (Chris Carsten), the man of the house, is a lawyer who is raising his children, Jem (Colin Clark-Bracewell) and Scout (Bailey Short/Chelsea Newton), largely with the help of his African-American housemaid, Calpurnia (Camille Gaston.)

The first act of the play is largely exposition, and a terrible exposition at that. The first act goes into grave detail about every aspect of the character’s lives; most important to the story of the play, but some only important to the story of the novel. It’s seems almost like writer Christopher Sergel adapted the entire book into a script, cut it down and accidentally left some things in that he didn’t mean to.

As such, the first act is slow. It only lasts about 50 minutes, but it feels like 90. This isn’t helped by the fact that the play doesn’t even utilize its best cast members. Atticus is barely in it, and neither are several exceptionally well portrayed characters .

Instead, the first act sticks with the child actors, who are about as good as child actors usually are; which is to say, not the best. Director Karen Johnson plays up the “Aw shucks!” aspect of childhood, which makes the whole first act feel false.

The first act is a slog, and I almost wouldn’t blame you if you left during intermission and didn’t come back. It would be a shame if you did though, because the second act is enthralling and intense.

The second half focuses on the trial of a black man named Tom Robinson (Tony Sanders), who is being accused of “taking advantage of” a young white girl, Mayella Ewell (Brandi Martin). The 30-minute trial is one of the most intense things that I’ve experienced in a while.

Every adult member of the cast in this scene is fantastic, especially Sanders who delivers by far the most intense moment in the play.

Overall, I felt very uncomfortable watching the trial sequence, which is a good thing. The scene is so intense that I found myself shaking at the end of it.

The second act is surprisingly strong, even after the trial, but I shan’t spoil those events, in case you don’t know the story.

However, if you don’t know the story I’m not sure this would be the best way to first experience it. I would recommend either reading the book or watching the movie first.

All in all, I liked To Kill a Mockingbird almost as much as I disliked it. The second act is great, but the first act is so slow and uneventful that I almost wonder if it’s worth it.

To Kill a Mockingbird will run through Oct. 14 at 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. To contact them call 559.266.0660. Tickets cost $16 with a dollar discount for students and seniors.

For more reviews, read the Sept. 24 article, Baseball flick similar to “comfort food” (VIDEO).

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