The last we saw of Atticus Finch, when the Oscar winning performance of Gregory Peck’s film followed the release of the novel, he was sitting in the corner of injured son Jem’s bedroom, the warm arms of his cardigan sweater wrapping and re-wrapping around the clinging figure of his daughter Scout, the three of them recovering from a painful experience of racism, hatred, and violence, and the often lonely cost of standing against it.
I have a feeling that many of us, both on the stage and in the audience, whether fans of the book or film or both, join Scout and her older self Jean Louise in waiting to see Atticus again.
The play strikes a chord for me as I had a very Atticus-like father, a dead ringer in both looks and mannerisms and as I grew into an adult and journalist, I had the opportunity to see lawyers and judges in action at the county courthouse in Virginia. And just as I still get that experience today covering trials today in rural Wisconsin, I also have witnessed the conflicts of race and prejudice all too recently near us in Milwaukee and through the nation.
Like Scout at the start of the play we wait for Atticus to return from the courthouse. Like Jean Louise at the end we look back through the window, and through the decades, wishing we could go back to him, to speak to him and finish the lessons. Lessons of putting ourselves in others shoes, and realizing that even as we rail against what isn’t right, we are not alone as others quietly do the uncomfortable business of protecting Mockingbirds be they a Tom Robinson or a Boo Radley.
I suspect those of us who were graced with a great father miss him; and those of us who didn’t miss and yearn for such an experience.
Fortunately Christopher Sergel’s play gives us that opportunity in an up-close and live setting not to be missed. It’s been said that in some ways To Kill A Mockingbird is a love letter from novelist Harper Lee to her father. Of the several Sergel versions of the play that exist, the one being performed at Waukesha Civic Theatre comes closest to depicting that moment, and lifetime of reaching out to Atticus.
It’s a safe bet you’ll feel him reaching back and holding you safe.
Written by Jim McClure, who plays Judge Taylor in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Waukesha Civic Theatre