I was often stunned at the Southern customs, especially as they regarded race. I often felt like a fish — lox at that — out of water.
Now I'm the Public Defender
of Maycomb, Alabama.
For the past couple months, I've been preparing to portray Atticus Finch, the noble, righteous lawyer who focuses his life — and the teaching of his kids — on one primary message.
To be sure, To Kill A Mockingbird is about a lot of things: race relations, community and sub-communities, civil rights, small town gossip, xenophobia, respect and disrespect, the wayward bent of mob mentality, single parenthood, neglected children, opium addiction, gun use, law enforcement and, of course, capital punishment. (I'm sure I'm missing something here.)
But Atticus focuses all his energy on one thing.
His message is this: humanity.
In his teaching of his kids, in his own actions, and in all his dealings in court, his home and his neighborhood, Atticus is a living reminder of the importance of our common humanity.
Why does he care about humanity? Because he is a man of justice, a tzadik.
And he deeply believes that justice — in the court of law and the Court Of Life — is based on our individual ability to appreciate each person as a living, mortal expression of our shared humanity.
The Sharing's The Thing
Atticus teaches Jem and Scout (Dill already knows) — and all of us — that "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."
Atticus can't truly walk in another's skin. But he probably comes as close as any white person can to understanding Tom's ultimate explanation for fleeing the scene of Mayella's advances: "Mr. Finch, if you was black like me, you'd be scared, too."
The Mockingbird Message
The play has changed me. (That's why I wanted to do it. I'm an actor in search of epiphany.)
I find that I am looking at people more deeply (whatever their color). The clerk at Kroger's, the woman behind me in line, the man waiting for the bus — I am trying my best to appreciate their situation and the implications for how that might influence who they are.
I even stare at the other actors in rehearsal — amid the continuing challenge of spilling out the lines in the right order at the right time — and wonder: "What must it be like to be him or her?"
All this birdwatching is helping me understand how I must appear to others, too.
Come hear the song of the mockingbird.
Ask not for whom the mockingbird sings. It sings for thee.
Advance tickets for Mockingbird are online. Any tickets left at the door will be sold at the price of Pay What You Want.
Why? Because, given the choice between having your money or having you in the theater, we'd cheerfully choose the latter. We'd like some of the former, of course, but don't let the price of tickets keep you away. Pay what you want.
I just handed a card for the show to The New York Times/Columbus Dispatch delivery man as he drove past the house. I told him, "I'm in a show. The tickets are priced at Pay What You Want."
His reply: "Really? Cool. Thanks."
Tell everyone. This is a show for everyone.
The show opens and closes next week.
Details are here at HarperLeeAVLT.com.
I hope you're coming. It's going to be a great show.