We Talk to the NKY Actors Starring in Playhouse's "To Kill A Mockingbird"
Beloved American classic To Kill a Mockingbird is a box office hit at Playhouse in the Park, now extended through April 10.
What we love best about it are the many local actors on stage, including four from Northern Kentucky.
Harper Lee’s heartfelt drama is about a life-changing summer for a young girl in Depression-era, small town Alabama, when her father Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit – and which everyone knows he didn’t commit.
We caught up with our local actors, who talk about the drama from their characters’ points of view and about life then and life now – what’s changed and what’s the same.
RCN: What's the significance of To Kill a Mockingbird from your character's point of view?
Randy Lee Bailey is Walter Cunningham, a poor client of Atticus Finch and one of the men who comes to lynch Tom Robinson Walter (falsely accused of rape): “Cunningham is part of the old South, with white privilege and male dominance. His encounter with Scout outside the jail leads to his questioning of those positions and makes for a trying time during the trial.
“Does he change his mind, or does he ultimately hold on to his old view of the world? Each performance can lead to a different conclusion.”
Jared Joplin plays Mr. Gilmer, the state attorney representing the Ewells (who accuse Tom Robinson of rape): “For Mr. Gilmer, the significance of this play centers around the changes that have been occurring and are still occurring in the world he lives in and the fear that accompanies these changes.
“The Civil War is actually not that far past and its scars can still be felt in Alabama. Furthermore, the First World War has just happened as well as the Depression. Many of these men feared their roles in the community have been replaced or usurped. They also feared their public perception if they were unable to provide for their family.
“Women were becoming more powerful in the community. African Americans were gaining more rights. Men like Mr. Gilmer saw themselves losing their power in the community and ultimately feared this made them less. They also felt an overwhelming need to protect the women and children from what they (the men) feared.”
Ty Joseph Shelton is Dill, Jem and Scout's neighborhood friend who comes to stay every summer with his aunt: “Dill struggles with issues of abandonment from his own family, and is in need of stability and a father figure, it is very powerful and significant that he finds himself spending the summer and learning from such an incredible hero as Atticus.”
Seth Wallen plays the Radley brothers Nathan and, more importantly, Boo, the Finch family’s mysterious, never-seen neighbor who is teased by Scout, Jem and Dill: “I found significance in creating a sense of community. More specifically, how a community can cling onto ideals and cause great opposition when those ideals and beliefs are challenged.”
RCN: What's changed and what hasn't since then?
Joplin: “There have been tremendous changes that have occurred since this time and that should be celebrated. However, what resonates about To Kill a Mockingbird is that regardless of these changes, the fears and xenophobic traits that we all are heir to continue to be a part of our human condition.
“Shows like this provide an important opportunity to see what prejudices have not changed since 1935 and to challenge why they haven't.”
Shelton: “We have gotten much better in treating people of all color and differences more equally, but I think there are still race problems and prejudices so there is still room for improvement. “
Wallen: “Technology has given people voices to speak freely on various topics and platforms, many of whom may not have had a place or forum to speak freely in 1935. What hasn't changed: racism still exists. It is still strong, systematic and damaging as ever. “
Bailey: “Up to a few months ago, I would have said that progress has been made, and is continuing. But the rise of overt racism in the current political discourse, continuing violence against black men and the division of America on social and economic lines for political gain lead me to believe the opposite is true.”
RCN: How do you make your character and the audience feel the sweltering Alabama heat?
Bailey: “We don't make the heat; the story, its conflicts and its relevance to today's world creates the friction that leads to a sweltering environment.”
Wallen: “The costumers have helped with that. Adding grime, sweat stains and distressing gives the impression of having lived in such an environment. On the actor’s part, small things such as fanning with the hand or shirt can sell the idea.”
Shelton: “I think the dialect and dialogue has a lot to do with it.”
Joplin: “A lot of handkerchiefs ...”
To Kill a Mockingbird, through April 10. Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $35-$86 and subject to change; $30-$45 children, teens and students in advance. 513-421-3888 and www.cincyplay.com
Written by Jackie Demaline
Photos, by Mikki Schaffner, provided