Surreally Serendipitous: The Day I Watched Aaron Sorkin’s Adaptation of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

b Atticus Finch in the courtroom scaled 1

A good friend suggested I read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. So one day, as my brother and I were exploring the streets of Calcutta, young and in our first jobs, we entered a bookshop and found the book. It continues to be with me, with ‘Calcutta, July 1998’ written on the top right corner of the first page.

For the uninitiated, the plot centers around the Finch family living in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. Atticus Finch is a lawyer defending a Black man accused of raping a white woman. Its message against racial injustice and prejudice remains significant even now.

Over the years, I have often revisited the book, to seek its perspective, its words carefully sewn together to succinctly convey the incidents and its interpretations, simple yet complex, with its multiple facets. The plot, appearing as a lost battle, subtly emerges as a substantial win, simply in standing up for the marginalized—a cause overlooked then and now. It underscores how advocates for a cause are inevitably a minority, with only a few allies.

For example, turn to page 99, where Atticus gives Jem and Scout air rifles and explains why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” This is the only time Atticus was heard saying it was a sin to do something.

One big lesson I learnt from this book is that children are constantly observing everything, and absorbing their surroundings. Engaging in discussions with them is necessary, since they keenly watch adults. Atticus serves as an exemplary model, unwavering in his principles and empathetic understanding of others.

So while planning for things to do on our visit to the US, my sister-in-law asked, “There’s going to be ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Broadway in Dayton, shall we go?” Without hesitation, I responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” I could never have imagined this book be transformed into a play. How does one condense and capture a story with such vivid details that you actually feel you are living in that village, era, and time?

On a bright, sunny evening in October, with a definite nip in the crisp autumn air and vibrant fall colours lining both sides of the road, we drove from Mason (Cincinnati, Ohio) to Dayton. Despite being well ahead of schedule, we encountered a lengthy queue for parking. The culprit? Payments were accepted solely by handing over credit cards to the lone attendant at the entry gate.

As we waited, inching forward in the line of cars, fingers tapping nervously, the fear of missing the first part until intermission loomed. A silent procession against the injustice of war passed by, reminding us that, in certain matters, little has changed. We made it into the hall just one minute before the play began.

Seen through the protagonist’s eyes, the book is a foundational read, capturing the innocence of a child’s mind, an uncomplicated heart that seeks to understand everything, and the myriad questions that arise. It extends beyond the courtroom trial, offering a narrative on life’s multifaceted aspects, from food and school to sports and neighbours, with satire and humour dominating the play.

The stage’s intricate setting seamlessly transitioned from Atticus’s home to the courtroom, capturing every detail. Our eyes absorbed the nuances, the shifting sepia tones, and other changing colours. The one hundred and fifty-five minutes passed in a blur, filled with soft murmurs, chuckles, affirmations, loud laughter, and grave silences.

The adaptation of this legendary book into a play demanded a high level of engagement to meet expectations. Aaron Sorkin, known for TV productions like ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Newsroom,’ lived up to his reputation in this play. Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Melanie Moore as the narrator Scout Finch, Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia, and Jeff Still as Judge Taylor delivered exceptional performances. The entire cast and crew, including scenic designer Miriam Buether and the teams handling costumes, lighting, and sound, received a well-deserved standing ovation.

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Page 33, simple, deep, and true. 

Book, film, sequel book, play – this completes the loop for me for now.

anuradha 2

Anuradha Pati

Anuradha is an independent development professional with a deep interest in craft-based livelihoods, as well as reuse, recycle and sustainable living.


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