“It’s a sin.” “What’s a sin?” “To kill a mockingbird.” “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird?” “Yes.” “You’re telling me it’s a mortal sin. Just to kill a bird.” “If it’s mocking you, yes.”
That’s but a small snippet of what audiences might be getting from a new Aaron Sorkin-scripted adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic coming-of-age novel To Kill a Mockingbird scheduled to hit Broadway during the 2017-18 season. Entertainment Weekly has confirmed that the celebrated playwright, showrunner, and screenwriter will return to the stage once more with a new interpretation of the 1960 story of the Finch family of Maycomb, Alabama. His trademark walk-and-talks will have nowhere to go within the boundaries of the stage, but the charged legal proceedings that make up much of the book’s second half marked this as a no-brainer for the Oscar-winning writer, who came to prominence as the playwright behind A Few Good Men.
Those of us without the finesse to bluff our way through the sixth grade know that Lee’s novel chronicles the childhood of plucky Scout Finch, a tyke with an active imagination about the creepy house down the street and its mysterious inhabitant, Boo Radley. In counterpoint, Lee also devoted much of her novel to Scout’s pop Atticus, a dashingly handsome (at least, Gregory Peck sure was) lawyer defending the wrongfully accused Tom Robinson from erroneous criminal charges and the blistering heat of Southern racism. A colorful cast of supporting characters, a simply written vernacular from a child’s perspective, and a gleaming moral center have made this novel a perennial favorite of young readers, and a cornerstone of public education.
Sorkin should have no trouble cinching his saddle up on the courtroom scenes, but one can’t help but wonder what a Sorkinized version of the quieter, more innocent passages of Scout’s girlhood might look like. Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film rendered Lee’s prose with a timeless classicism; Sorkin will have to strike his own tone, one perhaps characterized by speedy repetition and Gilbert and Sullivan references. I can hear it now: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk-and-talk around in it.”