'Mockingbird' stage play remains relevant as ever

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

The timing of The Players Guild of Dearborn's new stage production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" couldn't be more perfect. Early last month the classic novel's author, Harper Lee, announced she will finally publish her second book, "Go Set a Watchman," a sort of sequel which follows "Mockingbird's" Scout Finch as an adult woman.

That's not the only reason "Mockingbird" is ripe for a resurgence, though. The play's director, Mike Moseley, says the story, based loosely on Lee's coming of age in the South during the Depression, explores deep themes such as racial inequality and the destruction of innocence, which are just as relevant today as they were when the novel was released over half a century ago.

Much like Lee's novel, the play focuses on Scout, along with her older brother, Jem, and their eccentric friend Dill, as their lives are forever changed by the turmoil surrounding the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a white girl. Scout and Jem's father, Atticus, courageously stands up for Robinson in defiance of his outraged white neighbors.

"I think the timelessness of this story is that Atticus' lessons to his children are about tolerance, about being a person of integrity," Moseley says. "And they transcend any particular social issue. When he says you don't know a person until you step into their skin and walk around in it for a while, it's such a simple lesson. And maybe, due to it's simplicity, it gets overlooked, but it comes across in this piece beautifully because of the kids. They do what kids do. They keep questioning him, they keep asking why."

Moseley says the young actors playing the three (Leo Varitek, Jamie Paschke, and Peter Moore) approach the material with the perfect balance of maturity and curiosity.

"These kids have a wonderful sophistication," he says. "They honor this because they come at it with the authentic inquisitiveness of youth. They will not be denied an answer. Kids hold the adult world to account for what we say and what we do. And these kids do it so well. It's fun working with them."

"Mockingbird" is a prime example of a story geared toward children that doesn't talk down to them. Tom Varitek, who plays Atticus and whose real-life son plays Jem, says that's because the source material doesn't shy away from difficult truths, and through Atticus' example, it empowers young people to confront adversity.

"There are well-meaning people who don't do the right thing, and a lot of times that's just as scary as the boogeyman," Varitek says. "The problems we have are not easy, but the willingness to roll up your sleeves and understand all the situations, that's the only way to solve it."

Moseley hopes this production will reinvigorate the book's themes in the minds of the audience, so even those familiar with the book or the film adaptation will find something new to appreciate.

"I hope that people would come to this with the anticipation of seeing something familiar new," he says. "It's like when you go to your bookshelf and pull out that favorite book. You've haven't read it for a while, but there's an instant familiarity and there's a great joy in finding it again. I hope people will find again the themes that are important in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and how much they matter today. Our world needs the Finches as much today as when Harper Lee wrote this."

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Friday-Sunday, as well as March 13-15

and 20-22

The Players Guild

21730 Madison, Dearborn

Tickets $15

(313) 561-8587