Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Pickwick Players Stage 'To Kill A Mockingbird' In Santee

Atticus (Larry E. Fox) tries to explain some complex issues to his young daughter Scout (Francesca Fong) in the Pickwick Players's production of Harper Lee's book "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Atticus (Larry E. Fox) tries to explain some complex issues to his young daughter Scout (Francesca Fong) in the Pickwick Players's production of Harper Lee's book "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Harper Lee's message about community remains relevant

Pickwick Players Present ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’
Pickwick Players Stage ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ In Santee
Back in August Pickwick Players decided that they would put on “To Kill A Mockingbird” in February during Black History Month. The play proves even more resonant now in light of how polarizing politics have become.

Back in August Pickwick Players decided that they would put on “To Kill A Mockingbird” in February, during Black History Month. The play proves even more resonant now in light of how polarizing politics have become since the election.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” was written in 1960, but its message about not being able to judge someone until you walk around in his or her skin felt contemporary to Tyler Hewes. He is directing a stage version of the book in Santee, where voting in his precinct during last November's presidential election was evenly split between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

"So we are truly a town divided. And yet, we are one community when it comes to everyday things, so this play is one of those ways of exploring how we can stay one community even though one half thinks one way and one half thinks another," Tyler said before a dress rehearsal on Tuesday night.

The play is being performed at Off Broadway Live in Santee. The venue primarily serves up dinner theater, but Pickwick Players also use it. The theater is located in a strip mall in a building that looks like it could have been a bank previously. It is not a place where you expect to find live theater, but its location makes it very nested in the community.

For this production, Hewes decided on a minimalist set that includes a tree — which will bear pages of Lee's book as its leaves — at center stage. Actors will serve as the ushers and then walk up onto the stage from the audience. It is a production that wants to engage the audience wherever and whenever possible.

One of the goals of Pickwick Players is to use a mix of young and veteran actors. Young Francesca Fong, who plays Lee's alter ego, Scout, is key to this production.

The story — for those who do not remember the Oscar-winning 1962 film with Gregory Peck, or who did not have to read the book in school — is about Scout's father, Atticus Finch, who is defending a black man who has been charged with raping a white woman. The story is about race, about a young girl coming of age and about that child having grown up and looking back on her father and the values he tried to instill in her.

Hewes said that it is an appropriate time to revisit the play for multiple reasons.

"It’s Black History Month, it is the one-year anniversary of Harper Lee’s passing, and there's all of the consternation surrounding our political life," Hewes said. "So if this play has one great resounding message it is that you have to look at the world through your neighbor’s eyes, and I hope that the community that comes and watches this amazing production will be able to walk away and the next time they are faced with political opposition, something on Facebook just drives them crazy, they’ll try to remember to look at the world through their friend’s eyes, through their opponent’s eyes rather than making them their enemy."

Art may not be able to change the world, but Pickwick Players hope that performing "To Kill A Mockingbird" within the community, where some of them actually live, may at least be able to begin a discussion about how to remain a community despite divisions.

Pickwick Players' "To Kill A Mockingbird" opens Feb. 17 with performances running this weekend and next.