I headed out to Gilbert Saturday for a matinee performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is being presented by Hale Centre Theatre through June 30. It’s directed by D. Scott Withers and stars Rob Stuart as Southern gentleman and lawyer Atticus Finch, who’s charged with defending a black man accused by a white woman of rape.
The setting is Maycomb, Alabama during 1935. Hale’s production is a Christopher Sergel adaptation of the Harper Lee novel published in 1960. The cast includes three young actors — Casey Pettyjohn (Dill), Dale Mortensen (Jeremy “Jem” Finch) and Zoe Zamora (Scout Finch). Each did a terrific job.
There’s much to love about the Hale Centre Theatre experience. The theater is located near several great eateries and arts destinations — and there’s a park across the street where children can run off steam. Hale also has a children’s theater, which presents “Rapunzel” through June 30.
The day I attended, the vibe was warm and friendly. There’s a concessions area with an old-time feel, and the fellow who staffed it Saturday wheeled a two-level cart onto center stage during intermission for folks who wanted a water or candy fix without moving far from their seats. The same spot was raffle central before the show started.
Four sections of seats surround a center stage at Hale Centre Theatre, and three small balconies serve as extended portions of the set. Actors sometimes enter and exit the stage from these areas, which is especially fun for folks who like to see them up close. For much of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a central set piece is a tire swing suspended from exposed beams above.
Before “To Kill a Mockingbird” began, David Dietlein (half of the owner/producer team that includes his wife Corrin Dietlein) unveiled the theater’s 2012-2013, noting that they’re honoring requests for more musicals by doubling their musical theater offerings. Think “The Secret Garden,” “Annie,” “Forever Plaid,” “South Pacific,” “Damn Yankees” and “Hairspray.”
They’ll perform “The Price of Freedom,” a musical tibute “dedicated to those who served in World War II and the loved ones they left behind” during Sept/Oct and the holiday musical “A Christmas Carol” during late Nov/Dec. Comedies for 2012-2013 include “The Hit” (an Arizona premiere by Mike Buckley), “The 39 Steps” and “The Man With The Pointed Toes” (billed by Hale as its “most popular show ever”).
Dietlein noted that folks who buy tickets for ten shows will save $10 per show, and that tickets for patrons ages 6 to 18 are always $10 each. I learned after the show, while talking with actors who greet folks via reception line in the lobby, that students from Mesa Preparatory Academy were in the audience on Saturday – having read the novel to prepare for seeing the work.
Parents who take children to see the show should be ready for questions about mature content, including references to rape and use of what we’ve come to call “the N-word.” Both have been cited by folks who’ve sought to ban Lee’s book, and folks eager to learn more about that fight can find resources through Banned Book Week, taking place Sept 30-Oct 6 this year.
I checked the interest level of various teens in the audience several times during Saturday’s performance. Many leaned forward, showing more interest in the play, during the courtroom scene that dominates the play’s second act. This was clearly the most compelling part of the production, and the most humorous piece as well.
Parents and teachers interested in learning more about Harper Lee and “To Kill a Mockingbird” can read the Utah Shakespeare Festival study guide and consult several PBS pieces available online. Click here for details on upcoming Hale Centre Theatre productions.
Note: Click here to read about a recent screening of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the White House. Click here to learn about the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 51st season, which includes “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Coming up: Art meets Father’s Day, The secret life of paper