Enlarging ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at Venice Theater

Susan L. Rife

Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” consistently ranks at the top of Americans’ most-loved books. The 1962 film adaptation won Gregory Peck a best actor Oscar. And a 2018 Broadway production by Aaron Sorkin was a box-office smash.

Less well known is Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation from the late 1960s, which was approved by Lee as a production for schools and community theaters.

“It has been beloved and much celebrated ever since its publishing,” said Benny Sato Ambush, who is directing the production of Sergel’s stage adaptation for Venice Theatre. “I appreciate what Harper Lee did and how risky that was for her de ella, being a Southern white woman herself, telling a story that she knew. But she knew the story through her eyes of her. ”

More:Venice Theater announces 16 shows for its 2022-2023 season

Ambush, Venice Theatre’s new artistic director, brings a different point of view to the Venice production of a small Alabama town rocked when respected attorney Atticus Finch defends a Black man accused of assaulting a White woman.

“What we don’t hear or have is the presence of Black men,” said Ambush, who is Black. “I know there is a counternarrative from the Black community that is represented neither in the novel or this stage adaptation.”

Ambush is quick to add that he is not changing the production, but rather “enlarging” it.

Dylan Grantham as Scout and Suzanne Custer as Jean Louise Finch.

“I am adding in a Black community,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of extras that I’m using in this production. That courtroom scene, everybody in the county came for that. It was a high-profile trial that people flocked to. I’m packing that courtroom with spectators, white folks on the floor, Black people up in the gallery.”

The script itself identifies just four Black characters, among them Tom Robinson (Alfred Redmond), the accused man.

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