Iconic novel coming to LRU stage

"To Kill a Mockingbird."

The novel and its message of redemption are an iconic part of American history.

An area theater group is performing a stage production tonight of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racial inequality during a one-night presentation on Lenoir-Rhyne University's campus.

The play comes during the final days of Black History Month, and the "To Kill a Mockingbird" actors said they hope theater-goers leave the play with a better understanding of the horrors of racial inequality.

"I hope people get a fair, enlightened view of how bad segregation was," said Richard Eller, a Catawba Valley Community College professor who portrays Atticus Finch in the play.

One of Eller's classes at CVCC produced a video about racism in North Carolina prior to the Civil Rights era, and that video will show before the play.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is performed by Action Theatrics, a new acting company in western North Carolina. The show starts Friday at 8 p.m. in the Belk Centrum Theatre at Lenoir-Rhyne University. The play is performed for one night only, and admission is $10.

Action Theatrics performed the play in Lenoir before deciding to bring the production to Catawba County. Company member Lisa Sims plays Jean Louise Finch, an adult version of tomboy Scout Finch, who narrates the play looking back on her experiences as a child.

"To be able to stand in that role and tell that story was an honor," Sims said. "I was stepping into some pretty big shoes. Although it was a challenge, it was also something I took on with quite a bit of humility, as well."

"To Kill a Mockingbird" tells the story of Scout Finch, a girl growing up in Alabama during the Great Depression. Scout's father, Atticus, agrees to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who is charged with raping a white woman.

The southern town deals with its share of racism and prejudice, and the Finch family learns how to handle those hardships.

The play remains historically accurate in that it includes racial slurs commonly used when the story took place.

"You couldn't take that word (of the play), because historically, it is correct — no matter how painful it is," Eller said.

The cast also learned how to deal with the play's sensitive content, especially when some characters must say racially insensitive lines.

Eller said one actor told the entire cast that when he speaks his lines containing racial comments, he's speaking them as a character, not as himself.

"I thought that was a good way to handle it," Eller said.

Sims and Eller said the south has come a long way since "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published more than 50 years ago. But they also said it's important to remind people of where the country came from.

"I hope people walk out with a greater sense of knowing that, although we aren't divided by segregation the way it was during the 30s, this is still a problem in America," Sims said. "There's still racial inequality, and there's still unjust situations that take place with minorities and many other groups."