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Theater Review: A memorable 'Mockingbird' at Pa. Playhouse

"To Kill A Mockingbird," through June 15, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem, is an example of Lehigh Valley community regional theater at its finest.

From the opening sounds of a summer's day in Alabama in 1935, to the concluding harmonica refrain (by Steven Capwell as a Townsperson), to an impressively realistic set, this is the best non-musical area production seen to date this year.

The classic drama, noted for the 1962 movie version starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, is meticulously directed by George Miller, who designed the set (as his nom de set design of Michael Lavelle Schofield) with Brett Oliveira (who did the show's superb lighting design).

The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, on which the stage version by Christopher Sergel, which debuted in 1990, is based.

There are outstanding performances in the Pennsylvania Playhouse's impressive cast, led by Pat Kelly as Atticus Finch. Kelly breathes purpose into the script. His body language renders a more aloof figure, making his principled stance very effective.

Among supporting roles, Bob Ewell is played with tobacco-spitting venom by Troy Brokenshire. While he probably doesn't harbor a chaw in his mouth, the way Brokenshire sets his mouth gives the appearance he does.

Balanced against Brokenshire's junkyard dog presence is Katharine Mayk, astounding as Ewell's daughter, Mayella. She is a quivering reed of insecurity.

Jonathon Krippe (Jem), Jordyn Dauter (Scout) and Zane Childs (Dill) dominate the first act, providing a window into the world of childhood innocence in contrast to the adult world of prejudice. The youths are charming and quite good in roles that would overwhelm many child actors.

Though he has few lines, Roy Shuler makes a powerful impression in the pivotal role of the accused, Tom Robinson, during the courtroom scene-dominated second act.

Kathy Patterson, as an engaging Stephanie, and Jeanie Olah as Miss Maudie, provide a narrative through-line and some lighter moments.

Sonia Aviles is a memorable Calpurnia.

Jack Armstorng gives a strong performance as Heck Tate.

The cast includes Sarah-Jane Pierce (Mrs. Dubose), Greg Rogers (Boo Radley), Jerry Brucker (Judge Taylor), Thomas W. Rush (Walter Cunningham), Jim Vivian (Atty. Jim Gilmer), William Hightower (Reverend Sykes) and Phil Markley, Steve Weed and Karon King as Townspersons.

The costumes by Kate Scuffle are particularly effective, from the vanilla ice cream suit of Atticus to the women's house dresses to the bib overalls of Ewell.

My quibble with the production has to do a loud gunshot (a matter which has bothered me during productions of other area plays) in the first act. I didn't see the usual lobby warning sign and was jolted in my seat by the volume of the report.

While my ears are not still ringing, my mind is still satisfied with Pennsylvania Playhouse's senstitive and thoughful staging of "To Kill A Mockingbird."