How do we know when a story's a "classic"? When we never get tired of hearing it, seeing it and reading it over and over again. When the characters are at once so unique and so familiar they remain fixed in our collective imagination forever. Atticus, Scout, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson-Harper Lee's semi-autobiographical renderings - may be America's most familiar and well-loved characters of all time.
Maui OnStage's production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" captures the innocence, intensity and heartbreak of the original novel. Their talented volunteers have built an amazing set that transports the audience to steamy, Southern "tired old Malcolm" before the play even begins. Marley Mehring is an adorable, wide-eyed Scout Finch and her real-life brother, Zeb, plays Scout's older brother, Jem, with the right amount of affected worldliness. It's a difficult script to wrestle with. So much of the novel's poetry comes from adult Scout's wistful narration, which Robert Mulligan's 1962 film adaptation retains. The theatrical version hands the narrative to the Finchs' neighbor, Miss Maudie, warmly and professionally played by Jennifer Rose, who tells the story from her wisteria-draped front porch.
Don Carlson takes the role of Atticus and makes it his own. His performance is strong and convincing, but it's not a Gregory Peck redux; Carlson adds a bit of humor and twinkle to the story's moral compass and draws the audience in. His exchanges with Dill-a character based quite famously on Lee's real-life cousin, Truman Capote - are especially fun. Kellan Welch, the Kamalii 4th-grader who plays Dill, steals every scene he's in with his Dennis the Menace cowlick and sophisticated comic timing.
Maui OnStage photo
Don Carlson is Atticus and Marley Mehring is Scout in this staging of Harper Lee’s classic.
Charlie Dungans holds nothing back as the abusive Bob Ewell. He gives the audience a Ewell as hateful, foul-mouthed and volatile as Lee intended. We see the ignorance, powerlessness and spite that lies at the root of his prejudice as much as we see the kindness, sincerity and hopelessness in Reuben Carrion's moving portrayal of Tom Robinson.
Although it is widely regarded as a civil rights story, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is as much about the importance of doing the right thing even when no one is looking - or when "the right thing" flies in the face of popular opinion. Although we've come a long way since 1935, the play reminds us how far we still have to go. When Alexis Dascoulias chose to include "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Maui OnStage's seasonal line-up, she knew she was taking on an ambitious project. Dascoulias and her Maui OnStage cast bring Harper Lee's characters - and the novel's powerful message - to life, vividly and memorably.
* "To Kill a Mockingbird" plays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through March 21 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $16 to $18; available at If the Shoe Fits in Wailuku and Lava Java in Kihei, or online at www.mauionstage.com. For more information, call 244-6969.