VST set ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in Garey Hall Courtroom

Katie Armstrong

The dramatization of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to be presented by Villanova Student Theatre next week, explores issues of racial injustice and inequality.

The plot involves the lives of the townspeople of a sleepy Alabama town and their experience with hatred and prejudice during the Great Depression era. Atticus Finch, a Caucasian lawyer, is appointed by the court to defend an African-American man, Tom Robinson, who has been unjustly accused of raping a Caucasian woman. 

Despite significant evidence of Robinson’s innocence, the jury convicts him, and Atticus’ faith in humanity is severely diminished. 

Jem and Scout Finch, the widowed Atticus’ children, must witness bigoted acts directed against their father for his participation in defending Robinson. 

The kindness and courage of their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, inspires hope in humanity in the young Scout Finch. 

The undergraduate production will be held in Garey Hall Courtroom 103 in the old law school. In an effort to produce an atmosphere of active engagement, cast and crew converted a courtroom and classroom into a theater space that surrounds the audience, incorporating them into the play’s setting and allowing them to feel as if they are traveling in time to another place and era. 

“We want people to know that theater can be anywhere, that it doesn’t have to be just in a theater,” said VST Director of Membership and cast member Elizabeth Marafino.

 “We are taking a story that everyone knows, and we want them to see it in a new way,” Marafino says. 

“This gives the audience the opportunity to stand in other people’s shoes, as Atticus Finch says, and allows the audience to see how others view the world, not just through one’s own perspective. Through this production, we would like people to feel willing to go out in the world and be more considerate of others.”

Freshman cast member Melissa Rooney, who plays Scout Finch, expressed how the site-specific production of the show might positively enhance the audience’s reception of the performance. 

“Ideas in this show are timeless in a way because equality is always going to be an issue in our society,” Rooney says. “Experiencing this issue through a book that most people have already read in high school just makes it a little easier to relate to because people are learning lessons from the show without realizing it. And that’s kind of the goal of the show — to bring those messages out. During the trial, we want the audience to feel as if they are the jury and are making their own decisions throughout the show.” 

It is no accident that VST chose to produce Harper Lee’s timeless classic during Black History Month. 

“It gives us the opportunity to look at race relations again and compare how such relations are going today with how they were in 1935, when the play takes place,” director Beth Criscuolo says. 

“We assume that so much has changed when really not enough has changed, so it’s a good reminder to people. Through experiencing the show, we want the audience to ask: are we doing all we can to make sure all persons are treated equally and fairly?” 

Criscuolo, who attended Villanova in the 1980s as an acting scholar in the theater graduate program, feels that the energy and care of the cast add to the overall success of the performance. 

“The actors are coming at this performance with heart and soul,” she says. 

“We have a lot of discussion in rehearsals, and one of the things I’m happiest about is that the cast has come to see ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ characters as people, too. They realize that there are reasons why people do or say things, such as through ignorance, lack of money, low social standing, et cetera. I think they are doing well at showing all different facets of all different characters. Actors can’t paint people with one broad brush stroke, but this student cast has been really successful at getting subtleties of the characters’ lives into individual performances.”

VST’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” qualifies as an approved ACS cultural event. Tickets will be sold in Connelly Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the week prior to and of the show, and they are also available at the door or online. Student tickets are $7, and adult tickets are $10. A talk-back and speaker’s Night will follow the performance on Feb. 18. 

Showdates are Feb. 16-19 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.