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'Mockingbird' Receives Tepid Treatment

September 03, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A sure-fire audience favorite, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a wonderful play by Christopher Sergel, based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning, semiautobiographical novel.

It's the story of a principled small-town Alabama lawyer (Steve Brown) defending a black man (Joe Thornton Jr.) accused of the rape and battery of a young white woman (either Kim Coger or Libbey Sean Lazarus).

The Conejo Players production, based on director Michael Sollazo's successful staging in Santa Paula a few years ago, should be better than it is.

Perhaps as a result of Saturday night's heat and humidity, carrying Southern verisimilitude a bit too far, the acting was in many cases flat and lazy.

The cast and audience seemed to agree; there was no curtain call.

The three featured youngsters--Hayley Cariker as Scout, Mickey Rosenberg as Jem and Philip Cohen as Dill--supply many of the play's more convincing moments.

Double-casting several roles (different actors on different nights) probably doesn't help: Better the director should commit himself and let the players rehearse without wondering who they'll interact with from night to night. Other notables include Pam Trotter as a housekeeper and Connie Ropolo as an elderly neighbor.

Perhaps as the weather improves, performances will reach a higher level.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a worthy play, worth seeing in a less-than-inspired rendition.

* "To Kill a Mockingbird" continues at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 26 at Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Tickets are $8 Thursday, $10 Friday and $12 Saturday; (805) 485-3715.

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