There is a scene in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" when a black spectator in the courtroom balcony tells Scout to stand up.
"Your father's passing," the woman says as Scout's dad walks by.
That scene also will play out in Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel when Theatre Baton Rouge opens "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Sept. 22.
It's one of the story's most definitive moments — Scout sees her father through the eyes of another.
He's Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who doesn't see morality as a choice. He does what's right, and the right thing to do in 1935 Alabama is to defend a black man wrongly accused of rape.
Scout witnessed her father's steadfastness in the vitriol, and the respect given him from the balcony when he passes, even after a disappointing verdict.
Addie Prochaska is Scout, and the racial crux of the play is unfamiliar to this 11-year-old, as well as to 12-year-old Beau Willis, who plays her brother, Jem, and 11-year-old Joey Roth, who plays their friend, Dill.
"It's easy to tell that these kids have been raised in a different world," says Jenny Ballard, who is co-directing with Zac Thriffiley. "They are so far removed from this way of thinking, and that's a good thing. But the question for us was how do we teach them about this time period?"
The answer was easy.
"Miss Jenny told us to think about what it was like to walk in another person's shoes," Prochaska says.
As Ballard sees it, this play takes that concept a step further.
"We're artists, and though this play takes place in the 1930s, we still have things like this happening today in our own city," she says. "As artists, we can take a play like this, which is so relevant to things happening around us, and show others what it's like to see through another person's eyes, what his world is like by walking in his shoes."
Sergel's adaptation of Lee's 1960 book premiered in 1990 in Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where it continues to play each May on the courthouse grounds.
Lee's story is told through young Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout. Sergel's adaptation is told through the narration of an adult Jean Louise, played by Ally Guay, who relives the story.
"I think the older Jean Louise is able to look at it differently and not only see the story as she was living it but also through the eyes of those around her," Guay says. "It's said in every little girl there's an old woman. There's the older Jean Louise in Scout, but that Jean Louise still has Scout in her."
Guay says she watched videos of Truman Capote interviews before beginning rehearsals. Lee and Capote were lifelong friends, and it's said she based the character, Dill, on him.
"And, you know, the more I watch those videos, the more I can see Dill in him," Guay says, laughing.
Dill visits Scout and her brother, Jem, each summer in Maycomb, Alabama, where the siblings are being raised by their widowed father, Atticus, played by Pete Rizzo, and their strong-minded housekeeper, Calpurnia, played by Kelsie Stampley.
Scott, Jem and Dill embark on summer adventures filled with spooky rumors of a mysterious town resident named Boo Radley. But their innocent fun is interrupted when Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man who has been charged with raping a white woman.
Tony Collins plays Tom, a family man. It'a dream role for Collins, who told his high school English teacher he'd one day play Tom.
"I remember reading the book at Zachary High School, and I told my teacher that I would call her when I played this role," Collins says. "I called her, and she's coming."
Collins sees Robinson as a man who not only loves his family but reaches out to help others.
"He's happy," Collins says. "He loves his life. But then this happens."
Atticus tells Scout and Jem to steer clear of the courtroom, but they disobey, settling among the black spectators in the balcony, where Scout learns how others regard her father.
"With Atticus, I play a character who is unencumbered by political correctness, and he doesn't see morality as a choice," Rizzo says. "It's understood that he has a choice to make, but as he sees it, he can only make the right choice. He's a true hero, and it's amazing that this story was written almost 60 years ago, yet Atticus got it right where we don't get it right today."
To Kill A Mockingbird
A Theatre Baton Rouge Capital Series production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 28, 29, 30, Oct. 5, 6, 7; 2 p.m. Sept. 24, 30, Oct. 1, 8
WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge's Main Stage, 7155 Florida Blvd.
TICKETS/INFO: $25; $19 for students. (225) 924-6496 or theatrebr.org....Read more