After their highly attended run of To Kill a Mockingbird in September, 2010, Burning Coal Theatre Company remounts the production through March 20, proclaiming it their most successful production ever. For anyone in attendance, it is easy to see why. Stage productions of works like Mockingbird that were first adapted for film run the risk of being strictly compared to the film by the audience. This cast and crew made the production their own, however. Liz Beckham’s convincing performances of both an older Jean-Louise and a younger Scout Finch guide the audience through Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel. “How my brother broke his arm” hangs above the simple set with only a doll house miniature of the Radley house as scenery. Marc Bovino’s  simplistic set design coupled with Daniel Winter’s subtle yet highly effective lighting design called appropriate attention to symbolic design elements while leaving plenty of room for the actors sublime work. The spotlight on Jean-Louise as she recalls her childhood perception of Boo Radley while Boo himself materializes and disappears in the darkened window made him as much of a specter for the audience as Jean-Louise paints him in her memory. 

The all-around strong cast presents memorable performances whether or not they participated in the original run. The highly decorated Roger Rathburn had to fight the film comparison of his character to that of Gregory Peck’s; he connected best with the audience during his closing argument of the trial. Director Randolph Curtis Rand charged the audience to recognize the message of equality and incorporated them as jury to the trial, giving Atticus direct permission to speak frankly to the audience. One of the strongest scenes – and certainly the strongest staging of the play – arose with the cross-examination of Tom Robinson. Jade Arnold shone as Tom Robinson, and as he spoke his defense, the house fell quiet to absorb the impact of his voice.  Emelia Cowans filled her role as Calpurnia with realistic tough devotion to Scout and Jem. Jeff Cheek’s performance as Heck Tate cannot go unnoted: his final monologue could have roused an ovation from the audience if they had not been so captivated by the strength of his character. Several scenarios in this production remind us that sometimes awed silence instead of applause following a scene is the highest form of appreciation an audience can give the performers. The audience would not be silenced by the final curtain, however, as people rose to give this beautiful performance a well deserved standing ovation. Burning Coal’s cast and crew should expect many more ovations throughout this special run of their To Kill a Mockingbird.

Note: The second half of this run continues through March 20; for details, see the sidebar.