To Kill a Mockingbird, CollaborAction Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Chicagoans who never got around to reading Harper Lee’s novel in the city’s “book club” initiative can still see this show. More than a civic duty, this is an edifying coming-of-age story for both nine-year-old Scout and the hidebound Alabama town where her idealistic father, Atticus Finch, repudiates bigotry in 1935.
Using Christopher Sergel’s faithful adaptation, the 20 ensemble members deliver some impressive storytelling: occasional parts may fail, but the whole remains great. Like Wisdom Bridge Theatre’s 1994 staging of Sergel’s script, Anthony Moseley’s CollaborAction production celebrates down-home decency. Appropriately, the story of a white lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape is seen from the perspective of Atticus’s adoring daughter, who recognizes the good in a situation that could have seemed dark: her father’s efforts ultimately outweigh the ugly prospect of a black man being put to death for a rape he didn’t commit. And when a strange neighbor saves Scout’s life, it’s further proof that people can improve in Macomb, Alabama.
Deliberate and certain in a crisis and even in defeat, Dan Flannery’s Atticus fully convinces us of his moral stature. As the abusive father of the prevaricating victim, Larry Neumann Jr. is a snarling monster, a cracker matched in pathos by Kaitlin Byrd as his deeply damaged daughter. The evolving Alabamians are best represented by Judy Blue as the compassionate narrator and Meredith Maresh as a sparkling Scout. The show has only one drawback: the set is bone ugly, never suggesting a kid’s view of a beloved small town. And why are there real finches in Boo Radley’s shack?