Classic novel comes to Playhouse stage

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Sometimes the classics are classics for a reason, and after 24 years, the literary staple returns to the Erie Playhouse.

This month, Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s famous novel makes its second appearance on the stage.

Almitra Clerkin, a Gannon University alumna and executive director of the Erie Playhouse, leads this production.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book many have found in their high school reading curriculum, is set in the deep South during the Great Depression. The story follows the journey of Jem and Scout Finch, two children whose father, Atticus, has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man framed for rape. As the trial progresses, Jem and Scout witness their community in a tense tug of war between justice and racism.

Recently in America, the issue of race equality has boiled to the surface once again, making the events of “To Kill a Mockingbird” especially relevant to the modern-day audience.

“The story is so poignant and so timely, no matter when it’s done,” Clerkin said. “I always come down to this:  love God and love everyone else.  Just because they are different doesn’t mean that they are wrong and you are right.”

The real highlight of the play is in its diverse cast.

“Of course anyone can audition for any show at any time,” Clerkin said. “but some communities don’t choose to do that.

“They want a special show to be a part of.  So we have some very fine African-American actors in this as well.”

One of the hardest parts about mounting this show was the language.  The original text as well as the play is filled with one particular racial slur.  Every member of the cast uses it, and to eliminate it takes away a piece of the play.

“We couldn’t take it out because of the historical relevance; in 1935 that’s how they spoke and because of the theme of the play, I think it’s needed,” Clerkin said.

“It is throughout the book.  The kids that are coming into the daytime show know it.  They hear it and they have read it.”

Clerkin said she did not make this decision lightly.  She consulted the Erie Playhouse board, her assistant director and the entire cast before finalizing the decision and they all agreed that the language was crucial to the plays theme.

To add to the excitement for the upcoming show, the sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird” is set to debut this year.

The Playhouse board had no idea that Harper Lee was going to have a second book that is coming out at the same time as the show.

“Many people have asked if we planned that,” Clerkin said, “and how could we? You never know.  It was a surprise for everyone.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” opens Friday and runs through March 29 at the Erie Playhouse.

 

ELLISE CHASE

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