When To Kill a Mockingbird opens on Broadway December 13 at the Shubert Theatre, it will be the test of an idea writer Aaron Sorkin had years ago when asked to adapt Harper Lee’s novel: to frame the story as a memory play.
When Playbill spoke to Sorkin in 2016, it was the first anyone had heard of his version being framed as a memory play (a term first coined for Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie); now, two-and-a-half years later, Sorkin joked, “So I stuck with it? How about that?”
The Oscar-winning writer and the full cast of his latest Broadway outing greeted the press to talk about their experience shaping the stage adaptation, using the device of memory, and finding their own version of the characters.
The greatest nuance comes with leading player Atticus Finch, played onstage by Tony nominee Jeff Daniels. “In the book he has all the answers, he's carved out of marble,” Sorkin told Playbill. “In the play he wrestles with the questions.
“His belief system is challenged by Jem and, principally, by Calpurnia, which leads me to the second difference in the play, which is that in the book there are two significant African American characters, Calpurnia and Tom Robinson. In a play about racial tension in this small town, neither of the two African-American characters have anything to say about it. ... In the play they have agency,” said Sorkin. “None of this is meant to say that I found flaws in Harper Lee's book and sought to correct them. It's all meant to say I couldn't pretend like I was writing the play in 1960. Fifty-eight years have passed and we've seen some things.”
The company of actors have been excited to dig into the signature Sorkin style—known as some of the most challenging dialogue out there for its pace and rhythm. But Celia Keenan-Bolger articulated Sorkin’s gift: “He is able to distill big ideas into something so pure and so resonant but he’s also able to take I would say smaller ideas and make them really fun and funny and quippy and complex.”