Trying to comfort Tom’s wife, Helen (Lillian Afful-Stratton, center), are Calpurnia (Alicia Jones) and Atticus (Jalyn Green). (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)

Trying to comfort Tom’s wife, Helen (Lillian Afful-Stratton, center), are Calpurnia (Alicia Jones) and Atticus (Jalyn Green). (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)

Edmonds theater stresses social justice aspect of ‘Mockingbird’

The story of racism in the Depression-era Deep South remains all too relevant today.

EDMONDS — “Beloved” is the word so often associated with “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

A depiction of small town Southern life during the Great Depression wrought so beautifully you almost feel as if you need to be waving an old-fashioned cardboard church fan in your hands as you hear the story.

You are introduced to the characters of Scout, her brother Jem, and their attorney father, Atticus Finch.

And of course there’s the neighbor, Boo Radley, who rarely leaves his house and around whom swirls innuendos of a mysterious life and rumors of a violent past.

But the play, based on the book by Harper Lee, is more than an evocation of a time gone by. Racial hatred is ignited when Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping an impoverished white woman.

When Atticus Finch agrees to represent Robinson in court, both he and his children are subjected to social scorn and hateful words.

Despite Finch’s efforts, in the end, Robinson is wrongfully convicted.

The Driftwood Players production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” continues its run at the Wade James Theater through Feb. 25.

“The play itself is a classic, based on a classic book,” said Anabel Hovig, the play’s producer and production manager. “At the time, we weren’t thinking about it in a political way. But social justice is not political.”

It’s the first play of this type in the 59-year history of Driftwood Players, she said. “This is really going to affect people in ways that our other plays just don’t.”

A bulletin board in the theater has information about Harper Lee’s book, civil rights, segregation and lynchings, recognizing there are generations with no first-hand knowledge of signs surrounding drinking foundations and bathrooms that once read: “Colored only.”

Information also is available on continuing income disparities.

That’s just one of the issues that blacks in America are facing today, said Roger Berger, who teaches English composition and literature at Everett Community College.

“It’s a powerful book,” he said, and it’s important for people to understand the historical nature of racism.

“Issues today deal with economic inequality, mass incarceration and disproportionate violence against African Americans,” he said.

A special matinee is scheduled at 2 p.m. Feb. 24 with an opportunity for the audience to talk after the performance with the cast and crew.

Rehearsals for the 24-member cast began in December. Cast members were deeply affected by calling blacks by a racial epithet commonly heard in the 1930s and frequently used in the play. One actor cast in the play refused the role because she couldn’t say the word, Hovig said.

Its story of racial prejudice is as fresh today as in its Depression-era setting.

It was just last fall that a noose was tied over a beam at an Edmonds building site in an area where two black construction workers, a man and woman, were working.

In early production meetings, there were many discussions on how to interpret the play, Hovig said.

Atticus is often thought of as the central character, she said. “But there’s an interesting thing — we never really think about Tom Robinson. Where does the responsibility begin and end in this community that’s always been painted as having very fine people?”

The play couldn’t have been produced at a more appropriate time, Hovig said.

“We’re hoping people will reflect and think about it. I think it’s important that we do have thought-provoking pieces,” she said.

“That’s what theater was intended for — to help us think. I’m really interested to see how people respond to it even though they know the story already.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

“To Kill A Mockingbird”

The Driftwood Players present the play at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25 at the Wade James Theater, 950 Main St., Edmonds.

Tickets are $28, or $25 for seniors, youth and the military. Call 425-774-9600 or go to edmondsdriftwoodplayers.org.

A special matinee is scheduled at 2 p.m. Feb. 24 that includes the opportunity for the audience to talk after the performance with the cast and crew.

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