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To Kill a Mockingbird

Compass Rose Studio Theatre sets a new standard for a classic

Ric Andersen as Ewell, Chris Shea as Cunningham, Tim Wolf as Link Deas, Maggie Baum as Scout, Gary Goodson as Atticus and Tim DeSimone as Dill.

Now playing at Compass Rose Studio Theatre is a powerful, moving production of an American classic. The Pulitzer Prize went to Harper Lee in her first and only novel, and Oscars for the 1962 film went to Gregory Peck and to Horton Foote for his screenplay adaptation.  
    It takes guts to present To Kill a Mockingbird because Gregory Peck is seared into the role of Atticus Finch. When the American Film Institute ranked movie heroes of the 20th century, Atticus Finch ranked Number 1. Mary Badham has nearly as strong a hold on our image of daughter Scout.
    Audiences bring those memories into the theater with them, and local actors have to live up to them.
    This Compass Rose production compares well, exceedingly well, while giving us a different way of viewing Atticus.
    Harper Lee wove a gentle, yet intricate story of a young girl growing up, beginning to see the world and her father in adult terms. For all the racism and hatred revealed in a courtroom drama, Lee’s story ultimately speaks to “the better angels of our nature” that we hope guide us.
    You’ve heard of pocket parks, small oases of greenery in an urban landscape? Think of Compass Rose as a pocket theater, an oasis of creativity in a neighborhood setting. To call the stage tiny is an understatement, and this production is presented with stadium seating with audience on two sides and stage area down the middle. Yet a southern street and courtroom and 16 actors fill the space without overflowing it.
    Director Brandon McCoy gets all sorts of credit for this production, from moving the actors around credibly and effectively in that small space to earning their trust.  Trust — which is what brings out good performances — is challenging enough with adults. This show adds three young people.
    Maggie Baum plays Scout; Casey Baum plays brother Jem (both of Key School); Timothy DeSimone (from Jones Elementary) plays Dill. All are utterly believable and always on cue. Being less than 10 feet away and often barely a foot away from the audience, they have no place to hide. Yet they remain in character throughout, even when they’re not the focus of attention.
    Elizabeth Jernigan adroitly manages a difficult role as Jean Louise, the older Scout and narrator of the events, for she is part of the drama but often also an observer. Director McCoy adds to the effect by having Jean Louise shadow her younger self on the stage, then sit at the edge of the audience for narrated scenes.
    Gary Goodson does not emulate Peck as Atticus except to bring the same graceful elegance to a centered character of quiet dignity and controlled nature. Goodson’s confusion at the end, when his sacred view of the law is challenged by the notion of a higher justice, raises deeper moral questions than the film did, leaving the audience to ponder their own views of right and wrong.
    The rest of the cast is strong, though Southern accents vary in effectiveness. Olivia Ercolano as Mayella Ewell provides the needed power to one of the two major dramatic moments. Set and props work as needed, and musical interludes set the mood.
    This new company has guts — and the skills — to reach the high bar they set for themselves.

Playing thru Nov. 18 Th 7:30pm; FSa 8pm and Su 2pm at 101 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis. $30 w/discounts: 410-980-6662; ­www.compassrosetheatre.org.