Friday, October 3, 2014

'To Kill a Mockingbird' an MMT Smash

In many, many years of attending theatrical productions at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, I have rarely been more entertained than I was tonight with the thoroughly satisfying production of Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird." It is actually the third time I have seen this standard at MMT (one of them a dismal musical a few years ago) and even though this play is difficult to do badly, it had people breaking in throughout with applause. One rarely sees that kind of display with a drama.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was superb top to bottom, but especially in the middle where the characters, mostly played by Roanokers, shone. While this play was all but stolen by Mary Brothers' sparkling portrayal of Scout and Jeffrey McGuillion's creepy/scary Bob Ewell, it was locals like Greyson Alley (from Fairlawn), Steve Brown, Mary Jean Levin, Ben Lewis, Kevin McAlexander, Beth Pline, Chad Runyon and the always excellent Ginger Poole who gave the production its breadth and depth.

A group of solid African-American actors, apparently all imported for the production, included Jason Gray, Dee Selmore, Fred Motley and Ravenn McDowell and was uniformally convincing.

All this was brought together by the expert direction of veteran Francis X. Kuhn, who has been involved in theater and opera throughout the U.S. for years.

The most difficult role in this play is that of Atticus Finch and that's not because it's tricky. It's because Gregory Peck's screen version is perfect and anybody following him is in a bind to equal it. Nobody can come close, but Jeff Williams did a respectable job.

Ms. Poole, MMT's creative director who occasionally takes the stage, always well, gave the play clarity and a touch of class as the older Scout Finch in a narrator's guise. I thought Patrick Henry High School student Anne Peyton Brothers was solid as Mayella Ewell. (The Brothers sisters' dad (say that three times in a row, fast), Carter, was also in the production in a small part; In addition husband and wife John and Jeanne Fishwick each had a minor role; t'was a family outing).

There probably aren't enough kudos to go around for this fine production, but you can go see it through the 12th of October and make your own decision. I doubt it will vary from mine by much. The box office is a phone call (540-342-5740) or a 'net visit ( away.

You'll leave smiling.

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