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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird by Aaron Sorkin

Don't miss the show at Seven Venues' Chrysler Hall this week!

Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”), Stephen Elrod (Bailiff), Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of Seven Venues as credited.

I cannot wait to see Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a play by Aaron Sorkin, based on the classic novel, coming to Chrysler Hall on January 30 through February 4.  This novel, and the movie that followed, opened up my narrow little world as a child. I am so excited to see the play.

Rosa Parks, activist and woman of strength, refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. That act launched a city bus boycott by 17,000 citizens of Montgomery that lasted over a year and became one of the first key moments of the Civil Rights Movement. I was too young, too white, and too far removed from this event to be aware of what was going on in the south, in the north, or anywhere really. 

Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

I must have read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, not long after it was published in 1960. I’m not sure how I got hold of the book. It could have been a school assignment in junior high. I had an English teacher who was also a white activist in the Civil Rights Movement. He was part of a group of young, white college students that would head to the south during their summer vacations to help register black voters. Some of them died trying. This teacher took a group of us on a field trip to a NAACP rally in Detroit. He would regularly take us to NAACP events in the city and the suburbs, where I lived. To Kill a Mockingbird (the book) and that teacher changed my worldview.

The movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, was released in 1962. I saw it for the first time, also thanks to a teacher, sometime in high school. The movie starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout, his fierce little daughter who is forced to change her world view. The movie won three Oscars, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck. It was nominated for Best Picture. It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is a fantastic movie.

Scout Backus (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”). *Photo by Kevin Berne

The upcoming To Kill a Mockingbird play* was adapted by Academy Award and Emmy Award winning writer, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is known for his writing on The West Wing, and movies such as Moneyball and The Social Network. Sorkin is famous for his fast-paced dialogues and extended monologues. There is a lot of fast talking going on in Sorkin’s work. 

Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird opened on Broadway, with Jeff Daniels in the role of Atticus Finch, in 2018. Richard Thomas, formerly known as John-Boy from the long running TV series The Waltons, has been touring as Atticus Finch since March of 2022. 

Scout Backus (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). *Photo by Kevin Berne

Sorkin has shifted the focus from Scout’s point of view to the role of Atticus. The play begins with the trial, and then goes back in time to the events that lead to the conviction of Tom Robinson, a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman in the south of the 1930’s. Sorkin’s adaptation takes Atticus Finch off the pedestal of being a “white savior”. In the play, Atticus is still a good man, a good lawyer and a good father. The play spends more time exploring his development, his relationship with Scout and his relationship with his housekeeper, Calpurnia, played by Jacqueline Williams. There is more humor in a serious story about racial injustice and the loss of innocence in a unique, Aaron Sorkin kind of way.

Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham (“Mrs. Henry Dubose”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

In perhaps the best Easter Egg of all, Mary Badham plays the role of Mrs. Henry DuBose, the “dragon lady” neighbor who terrifies Scout, Jem and Dill. For those who know, Mary Badham was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Scout in the 1962 movie. The original Scout will be on stage at Chrysler Hall.

Big, Broadway musicals are usually the fare of the Broadway in Norfolk series. I love the musicals. This, however, is a chance to see a Broadway play, written by the great Aaron Sorkin, and acted by some great actors. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to

*Editor’s note: There is also an older adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird for the stage, adapted by Christopher Sergel in 1991, which you may have previously seen at a variety of local theaters. This incoming production is a completely different show.

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