The Mill Town Players are bringing to the stage one of America’s most beloved and controversial novels, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, which has enjoyed a surge of interest since the 2015 publication of her “sequel” “So Set A Watchman.”
Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, “To Kill a Mockingbird” follows the journey of Jem and Scout Finch, whose father Atticus Finch has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson a black man framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
As the trial progresses, Jem and Scout witness their community in a tense tug of war between justice and racism. This timeless classic compels us to take an honest look at our nation’s past and our moral responsibility to each other.
Directed by Christopher Rose. Featuring 21 local actors, including Reed Halvorson as Atticus Finch and Brian Reeder as Tom Robinson.
Tickets to To Kill a Mockingbird are only $10, with discounts for seniors, military, and students, and can be purchased online at www.milltownplayers.org, by calling (864)947-8000, or at the door.
Carolina Curtain Call contacted Reed Halvorson about this production in this very special interview.
CCC: WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THIS WORK (NOVEL OR OTHERWISE)?
RH: Everyone remembers reading the book in high school, perhaps followed by a viewing of the movie. I remember reading it with Mr. Ken Keller in high school, I think that would be my Sophomore year. The movie capture my attention more, I know that. For me, it was on VHS on “big” tv at the front of the classroom. Students of today can stream it on Netflix. It is one of the few books or stories I remember from high school. It continues to be taught in school as we all struggle with many of the core issues imbedded in the story. In fact, my school Christ Church Episcopal school, 8th, 9th, and my students for a total of about 250 students, are one of many that will attend school matinees for this show. The ability for a story to remain so entrenched in American English classes is clear evidence that this story still matters. The play, has the ability to reinforce that book in a truly visceral way.
CCC: HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CHARACTER ATTICUS FINCH?
RH: He is a sophisticated man, trying to maintain the many spinning plates in his life as the story begins. A lot of it is a balance of two parts of who he is on the inside. Stern but loving. Determined but level-headed. This juxtaposition mirrors the tumultuous environment of finding justice against the rigid codes of society. Knowing what’s right in the face of daily judgement is the greatest challenge of his life. His children are thrown into that mix and he has to lovingly pull them along. That’s a lot to put on a man, but Atticus might be the best person to handle it with an unmatched grace.
CCC: WHAT SPECIAL PREPARATION DID YOU DO TO PLAY AN ATTORNEY?
RH: I find courtroom dramas as seen in plays, movies, television shows fascinating. I watched the movie and happen to be friends with an attorney. But, much of what I am doing is mixture of choices from me based on prior knowledge and the direction of Chris Rose. While it may not all play out exactly as it does in real life, that’s certainly the beauty of theatre and storytelling. My biggest challenge is demonstrate more of a skill and determination without losing the quality of the Atticus that we all know and admire.
CCC: HOW WELL DOES THIS BOOK TRANSLATE TO THE STAGE?
RH: Seamless. This version of the production utilizes Ms. Maudie as a throughline both as a character and narrator. This gives room to transport forward in time and keeps the primary characters in the story to work as traditional characters in the play. We highlight the journey of all our favorite characters and hit every single one of the memorable lines from the book and movie. It moves quickly and the nuances of the story come to life in quality interactions and accuracy.
CCC: ARE YOU A SOUTHERNER?
RH: No, but I play one on stage! That’s been something I’ve worked on. Chris is a true southerner with Alabama roots. I’ve gotten my share of dialect notes and YouTube has been my friend. I’ve lived her 12 years and have a real ear for them, so I think I’m doing just fine. I actually have a thicker Alabama accent than Gregory Peck did in the movie, and I think that’s really helped fill out the character for me to make it work theatrically.
CCC: WHAT DOES THIS PLAY HAVE TO SAY TO PELZER AUDIENCES?
RH: This speaks to all communities. The ability to live, work, and thrive with people different than us is the American ideal. Not always is that reflected, not in our past and not always in the present. But our ability to find ways to move forward in that journey is represented in this story. Perhaps it is why it is still taught, because while we’ve come so far, we’re still persuing that true concept of “all men are created equal.” Atticus believes it with his whole body, and his efforts to convince others is the lesson Scout takes away by the end of the play.
CCC: WERE ANY SCENES OR DIALOGUE PARTICULARLY TROUBLESOME FOR THE CAST?
RH: It’s been a while, a couple of years since I’ve acted. I’ve loved knocking off the rust, but that’s been present throughout the process. It’s also the most dramatic role I’ve played in a really long time. But the greatest challenge, and for good reason, is the court scene. That takes a lot of timing, focus, and practice. It is about listening, reacting, being nuanced and intential in everything you do. The good news is, that hard work has really paid off. Even I can’t help but be caught up in the action.
CCC: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM TACKLING THIS PART?
RH: That I’m capable of it. That we as a cast are capable of it. That we can tell this story honestly and still all walk away closer than the last time we told it. Just as we hope the people who see the show will walk away and find a way to treat their neighbor with just a little more kindness. Personally, it affirms that I can do something as challenging as this play and this role. Like the monster challenge Atticus has when he gets put on the case to defend Tom Robinson. Whenever I think how hard it is to learn these lines or be so serious, I recognize I got it easy compared to the man I’m portraying. That makes me take a deep breath and muster up a little more courage to persevere. That’s what this time and life is about. Doing the best you can with what you got and cherishing every moment, good or bad.