The strength of Hercules, adventure of Sherlock Holmes and courage of Harry Potter have been the idolized heroes of literature for separate generations, but there is one literary character who stands alone in his humble, timeless heroism, wisdom and unprecedented civility: Atticus Finch.
The man who always reminds us to keep our heads up and our fists down is currently on stage at Coastal Repertory Theatre in its rendition of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I’d like to think I’m a good person,” said Dan Kapler, the actor portraying the iconic protagonist. “But no one can be that guy.”
The play, directed by Roxane Ashe, was written by Christopher Sergel and based on the Pultizer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. In this particular production, players of Coastal Reparatory feature an excess of talent in various characters and ages.
Fourth grader Klara La Guardia, along with Angela Joswiak, portrays the role of Scout, the spunky tomboy whose spirit and innocent perceptions of humanity face down an angry mob and befriends a town outcast.
La Guardia takes on the role of Scout, based upon the author herself, with the youthful spirit that would surely make Harper Lee regale in her days in Depression-era Alabama.
“I think my favorite part of this play is being with all the awesome actors and actresses,” La Guardia said after her performance Friday.
To Kill a Mockingbird highlights issues of racial inequality, violence and rape - subjects that can be mighty heavy for grade-school actors.
“I learned about a lot of stuff that I never knew existed,” La Guardia said.
Irma Mitton, whose son plays Elroy in the show, said that the children of the production openly discussed some of the difficult topics presented in the play.
“We let them ask as much as they wanted to ask,” Mitton said.
From the perspective of the audience, the young cast members played their roles with conscious understanding and graciousness.
Finn Rollings, who plays Dill, demonstrated great comedic timing with his squeaky-clean character and a wonderful ability to connect with the serious themes.
Jem Finch, played by Robert Letters, portrayed the hardships of being the brave big brother and the complexities of becoming a man.
Narrator Maudie Atkinson played by Mary Waterfield, presented the grace and elocution of a proper Southern woman while Stephanie Crawford, played by Deborah Joves, conjured fits of laughter and moments of comic relief with delightful animation.
“The quality really exceeds what anybody would expect a community theatre to be,” said Artistic Director Michael Lederman.
The stand-out of the night was undoubtedly Kapler’s performance of Atticus Finch. His magnetic stage presence and grasp of the character’s artful nobility quickly made him an audience favorite.
Making the part his own, the actor said, was something of a challenge, especially with past groundbreaking portrayals such as Gregory Peck's.
“You can’t just think, 'I’m just not going to be Gregory Peck,'” Kapler said. “That’s one of the challenges of being an actor.”
Aside from the notable performances of the actors, the technical elements of To Kill a Mockingbird visualized 1935 Maycomb, Alabama into being.
Set designer Dutch Fritz created a versatile, elegant setting that easily transformed from a flowery, country neighborhood to an intricate courthouse.
Lisa Claybaugh and Sue Joswiak created period ensembles for each cast member, detailing every element from Scout’s blue jean overalls to Atticus’ stylish attire.
Sound Designer Michael Lederman brought the audience into the morning with songbirds, through the storm with thunder and high winds, and into a peaceful night with the sporadic chirping of country crickets.
The Coastal Repertory’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird will delight theater enthusiasts and book lovers alike for a night of laughs, fears and tears in this classic American tale.
The production will run until October 8. Tickets are available at the Coastal Repertory box office or online at www.coastalrep.com.