Learning With: ‘“Mockingbird” Producer Reconsiders, Letting Local Plays Go Forward’

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Learning With: ‘“Mockingbird” Producer Reconsiders, Letting Local Plays Go Forward’

Before reading the article:

Have you read Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Have you ever watched a movie or play version of the novel? If so, what are your thoughts?

Are you aware there is a new theatrical production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” written by Aaron Sorkin, that premiered on Broadway in late 2018?

Read this excerpt from the New York Times review by Jesse Green:

Also effective, exhilarating even, are the interventions by which Mr. Sorkin set out to correct — or, let’s say, extrapolate — the novel’s politics for our time.

He had to do something. In a novel, we accept the worldview of the narrator, however limited or objectionable. Scout, who is barely 6 at the start of the story, can use words in print that would make her instantly unsympathetic onstage. We also accept that a first-person portrait of a white child’s moral awakening to racism will primarily focus on how it affects the white people around her.

But onstage, a work about racial injustice in which its principal black characters have no agency would be intolerable, so Mr. Sorkin makes a series of adjustments. With Scout’s point of view subordinated, we see Atticus through our own eyes instead of hers, making him the firm center of the story.

This gives Mr. Sorkin room to expand the roles of the two main black characters Atticus deals with: his client Tom (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and his housekeeper, Calpurnia. In Tom’s case, the expansion is subtle, largely a matter of giving him the dignity of voicing his own predicament. “I was guilty as soon as I was accused,” he says — adapting a line that was Scout’s in the book.

Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) gets a bigger remake. Bossy toward the children but deferential toward white adults in Lee’s account, she serves in the play as Atticus’s foil and needling conscience. Mocking his argument that Maycomb needs more time to overcome racism, she says, “How much time would Maycomb like?” Their tart but loving squabbles remind Scout of hers with Jem: They behave, she realizes, like brother and sister.

If you’re interested in learning more, then read the entire review. Does the review make you want to see the play? Why?

Now, read the article, “‘Mockingbird’ Producer Reconsiders, Letting Local Plays Go Forward,” and answer the following questions:

1. Who is Scott Rudin? What “barrage of criticism” did he face? Why?

2. What did Mr. Rudin do as an attempt to make peace with the theater companies affected by the contractual provision he holds for his version of the play “To Kill a Mockingbird”?