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'Mockingbird' Lands in N. Texas – in Different Ways
by Jerome Weeks 30 Sep 2011

The current production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Casa Manana is the first collaboration between the Fort Worth company and the Dallas Theater Center — in 53 years. How’s that for a novel with a message of tolerance? But there are other forms Mockingbird will be appearing here.


Mary Badham as Scout and Gregory Peck as Atticus in the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. Ira David Woods III and Morgan Richards in Casa Manana’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Fort Worth’s Casa Manana theater is currently presenting a stage adaptation of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Next month, the show will move to the Dallas Theater Center. It’s the first collaboration between the two companies — ever. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks says there’s more to Mockingbird in North Texas than just the stage show.

  • Star-Telegram review of Casa Manana Mockingbird

  • KERA radio story:
  • Expanded online story:

[sound of reading: “Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in … “]

Corinne Hill is interim director of the Dallas Public Library. She’s reading from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 1960. Hill is part of the free, public reading that the library is holding downtown through Friday.

Hill: “A classic is a classic for a reason – because it’s a really great book. It survives time, and it speaks to so many people regardless of your socioeconomic level. And that also is the key to a successful city read. You’ve gotta have something that’s going to speak to everybody.”

To Kill a Mockingbird has been a frequent choice for community reading programs around the country – ever since the idea of people in one town getting together to read one book started in Seattle in 1998. The Dallas reading program isn’t as ambitious as those in other cities — it’s not a true city-wide reading, no one has bought hundreds of copies of the novel to hand out to schools and book clubs. But in addition to the downtown reading, there’ll be workshops at branch libraries with cast members from the stage show. The Fort Worth Public Library has already screened the 1962 film version starring Gregory Peck, while Casa Manana partnered with Cleburne High School on an essay competition about the novel. And next month, the Magnolia Theater will screen Hey Boo, a documentary about the novel, its author and the film.

Author Harper Lee’s fond recollections of childhood in a sleepy Southern town during the Depression partly account for her novel’s popularity. So does its courtroom drama and its message of tolerance. The narrator — the grownup voice of the tomboy, Scout — remembers when her father, attorney Atticus Finch, was appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. That summer, Scout had to face what her father calls the ‘town malady’: its Jim Crow racism.

Atticus (Wo0d) faces the lynch mob

This is Ira David Wood III as Atticus in the Casa Manana production:

“To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place.”

Another reason for the novel’s popularity is, of course, that classic 1962 film version. The movie has even been honored on postage stamps. In fact, the stage adaptation is credited to Christopher Sergel, but most of its dialogue comes verbatim from the film, written by Texas playwright Horton Foote — which won Foote his first Oscar. This is Gregory Peck, who also won an Oscar for his work.

“To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place.”

The play version takes its dialogue from the film but doesn’t follow the film entirely. Two visits by Atticus to the family of Tom Robinson have been cut — ironically, this significantly lessens the African-American presence on stage.

Despite the continued popularity of the original book and film, the play version of Mockingbird is not often done — because it requires 17 people in the cast. Which is one reason for the collaboration between Casa Manana and the Dallas Theater Center: sharing the costs. (The only change will be the actor playing Atticus, Wood isn’t available for the October run. The Theater Center just announced it’ll be Jeremy Webb.)

Wally Jones, executive producer of Casa Manana, came to North Texas only two and a half years ago. That’s another reason, he says, Casa and the Dallas Theater Center are collaborating: He was new here and so was Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Theater Center.

Jones: “We didn’t have the preconceived notion that it was a battle between Fort Worth and Dallas. So why don’t we share a couple of shows? We got the rights to Mockingbird, I called Kevin and he was interested in it, so we decided to make it happen – after 53 years. Finally.”

It also didn’t hurt that between the oldest-established theater in Fort Worth and the oldest in Dallas, there’s relatively little competition for audiences. And the collaboration could physically happen now because the Wyly Theatre in Dallas’ Arts District is so adaptable, it can accommodate the Casa Manana set, designed by Donna Marquett.

Ultimately, all of this effort in North Texas libraries and theaters and movie houses has an effect, says the librarian, Corinne Hill (above, reading). An effect beyond selling tickets. It’s one reason, she says, the ‘city reads’ programs began 13 years ago.

Hill: “I think it builds community. You end up with people in unexpected places having conversations about the book. You know, the kids are reading it, the adults are reading it – and it builds community.”

To Kill a Mockingbird Readings, Screenings, Workshops and Performances in North Texas:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 27 – Friday, Sept. 30: Week-long read at Dallas Public Library’s Central branch in downtown Dallas.  Passages of the classic novel will be read by local officials, actors and community notables.
  • Saturday, Oct. 1 – Saturday, Oct. 15: DTC workshops at Dallas Public Library Branches (Pleasant Grove, Hampton-Illinois, Bachman and Grauwyler)
  • Saturday, Oct. 1 – Friday, Oct. 28: Spoken word workshops at Dallas Public Library Branches (Pleasant Grove, Hampton-Illinois, Bachman and Grauwyler)
  • Friday, Oct. 21: Dallas Theater Center’s Pay-What-You-Can Performance of To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Monday, Oct. 24 (7 p.m.): DTC GUILD presents Hey Boo, a documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Magnolia Theater in West Village.
  • Saturday, Oct. 29: Dallas Public Library International Book Festival to include:
    • Scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird performed by members of the DTC and Casa Mañana cast
    • Panel Discussion on Social Justice and Commitment to Community with local professors and high school teachers
    • Poetry Slam hosted by Juaquin Zihuatanejo (National Poetry Slam Finalist, Grand Slam Spoken Word Champion, and HBO Def Poet) and youth slam members
  • DTC onsite workshops on text of To Kill a Mockingbird
  • I am enjoying To Kill a Mockingbird immensely. Revisiting the book as an adult sheds light on the timeless truths of Harper Lee’s story — with the added bonus of being free of pop quizzes that riddled my first read in high school. Looking forward to the show.

  • Terri Thoman

    Can some one shed some light on the Oct 21st Pay-What-You-Can performance ?