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In Alexandria, a ‘Mockingbird’ That Sings

Emily O’Connell, a student at Bishop Ireton High School, reviews St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes’s production of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

From left, Lauren Cassady as Miss Stephanie, Emma Oxford as Miss Maudie and Maggie Edmunds as Scout. (By Suan Hamon )

It’s 1935 in Maycomb, Ala., and a little girl named Scout Finch is about to learn that not everything has to be black and white. An enduring story of courage and compassion in the face of racial injustice, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was performed at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School with the same poignancy and warmth that has made it an American classic.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the story of a town’s struggle with prejudice in the Depression-afflicted South. As tomboy Scout (Margaret Edmonds) and her brother, Jem (Matthew Mirliani), witness their father Atticus’s (Greg Neithamer) scandalous defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman, the racial inequalities they observe change them forever. This coming-of-age tale has illustrated for generations the importance of following one’s conscience and standing against societal injustices.

The talented cast of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes’s production captured the humor and innocence that underlie the play’s heavy themes. With fantastic chemistry and committed characterizations, the actors ably brought Maycomb to life, achieving consistent Southern accents and portraying characters of widely ranging ages.

Neithamer was moving as Atticus, displaying a perfect balance of patience and strength, especially when his frustrations became briefly evident in the most touchingly honest moment of the night. As Miss Maudie, the play’s narrator, Emma Oxford presented a brilliant characterization, capturing every nuance with her speech and expression.
Mirliani and Edmonds were believably youthful as the energetic siblings. As Dill, their precocious playmate, Henry Knotts conveyed his character’s loneliness while also providing humor.

As the violent Bob Ewell, Chris Luggiero made use of consistently strong facial expressions and physicality to become truly intimidating. Another standout was Natalie Walker as Mayella Ewell, whose powerful performance climaxed in a memorable breakdown on the witness stand. Tom Robinson (Taurus Brackett), the humble man unjustly accused of raping Mayella; Calpurnia (Gabby Lewis), the Finches’ housekeeper; and Mrs. Dubose (Sophia Gascoyne), a hilariously cranky old neighbor, also benefited from strong performances.

The production was technically sound, featuring tension-heightening background music composed and performed by Natalie Richards. Chris Devine, Elizabeth Movius, Austin Aulder and Andrew Groody provided an impeccably detailed lighting design that subtly depicted the time of day, reflected a variety of moods and kept the stage free from shadows, even under balconies. Period-appropriate props were provided by Katie McLean.

The actors persevered through loud but efficient set changes and could still be heard despite the occasional microphone mishap. The cast also recovered quickly from a few breaks in character.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” serves as a reminder of prejudices past and present. St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes skillfully brought this literary masterpiece to life in a soaring celebration of the power of compassion over hatred.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” will be presented for a second weekend, tomorrow Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Nov. 7 and 8 at 8:00PM.

By Washington Post Editors  |  November 4, 2008; 2:42 PM ET
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