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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 3.10.11

 

Clutter Cant Kill This Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird: The title alone stirs up all the love and controversy belonging to this simply told, complex story. OSFs production starts out on the right track. The set is sparse, with a few weathered, wooden pieces augmented by massive black-and-white projections suggesting the small southern town of Maycomb. Christopher Sergels clean stage adaptation pulls out the greatest strengths of Harper Lees novel, character and language, and sets them unhampered on the stage before us.

Bogging down this beautiful story, however, is a cluttered production. The projections were cool, but their overuse was a continual and annoying reminder that I was watching a play. Blocking was often unnatural and complicated, and too much time was spent fussing with set pieces. The strongest scene by far was the courtroom, where projections were limited and movement was dictated by the story.

Regardless, the production contains extraordinary performances. Mark Murphys Atticus Finch carries the strength of Gregory Pecks memory, but is less glamorous and more real as an intellectual widower caring for two children. Susannah Flood is Mayella Ewell in every way. A brilliant choice was made to cast deaf actor Howie Seago as Bob Ewell. He captures the unrepentant ugliness of the character, and the signing between he and Mayella adds another layer to their complex relationship.

While much of the beauty of the OSF productions lies in the companys commitment to taking chances and trying new technologies, Lees iconic and timeless story of community and otherness, of justice and murder, would have been better played if left to its own perfect simplicity. ã Anna Grace

Ashlands Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs Feb. 18 through Oct. 9; info & tickets at www.osfashland.org