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'To Kill a Mocking Bird' at Pec Playhouse.

By Sue Langenberg

Pec Playhouse of Pecatonica opened classic play "To Kill a Mocking Bird" June 15. The community theatre presented the iconic piece drawing from area actors to tell a uniquely American story.

This masterpiece of literature began as a novel by Harper Lee in 1960 with immediate success and Pulitzer Prize. The Oscar winning film to follow was directed by Robert Mulligan with screenplay by Horton Foote. Since 1990, it has become a play that has been performed every year in Lee’s home town of Monroeville, Alabama.

Director Anita Patterson of the PP production noted that the play remains more faithful to the book rather than the film. Indeed, the script feels alive with powerful symbols that strike a bass chord within us all with lessons of morality, equality, gender and racism in the American experience. It was Lee’s only book, but unwittingly tapped into a perfect storm of public regard, hailed high and sometimes criticized low because of racial overtones.

Her friendship with writer Truman Capote of "In Cold Blood" as a youth seems to have strengthened her inclination to portray power through story-telling and dialogue. It might be noted that she also mirrors novelist Stephen King about early self doubt; King threw his first manuscript ("Carrie") in the trash and Lee tossed this one out the window into the snow.

What might be cast as main character is the South in the early 20th century. It drives the plot in a society that seems stuck in the Civil War yet in 1935. The picket fences are but a deep divide of attitude white-washed in a firm mindset, only to be exposed by steady hand Atticus Finch and pure-thinking child Jean Louise Finch, or Scout.

As small town lawyer Finch, Patrick Barkdoll was everything to behold with an imposing presence and raised fore-finger. At the center of the racial divide, he delivered a calming voice of reason to the chagrin of coming-of-age Scout who originally perceives that her father is old and does nothing. Kaylee Moore as Scout was transforming with her steadfast tomboy image and questioning manner. The adult version of Scout as Jean Louise Finch appeared almost spiritually throughout to enhance and explain the dynamics of the action. In that role, Jessica Barkdoll was also most convincing.

Other two children Dill and Jem were visual partners of adolescence alongside Scout with their own idiosyncrasies. John Jurkovic as imaginative Dill was delightfully awkward and Casey Moncue was rampant with teenage passions, especially against crabby and cane-threatening character Mrs. Dubose, well played by Diane Grosvenor-Johnson.

Rich and alive with contrasting characters was the courtroom scene where the audience was indicated as the jury so that the barebones focus was the action. Drama and tension were in the air, along with lies and gallery huffs and puffs of attitude. Lead tsk- tsker was Beth Martin as Miss Stephanie Crawford as she snickered against gavel-pounding Judge Taylor by Ron Meyer. Also in the gallery, Dyanna Chandler as Sister Sykes was calm about the resignation that racism was very much alive in the legal system of the times.

Elsewhere in the cast and equally strong were Laura Wiegert as Calpurnia, Michelle Brown as Miss Maudie Atkinson, Bruce Wiegert as Heck Tate, Emilye Martin as abused victim Mayella Ewell, Glen Wiegert as redneck Bob Ewell, Randy Martin as ghostly Radleys, David Stanley as Walter Cunningham, James Johnson III as Man in Mob, Robert Marks as vilified and scared Tom Robinson and Ken Dull as disgruntled and opposing force Mr. Gilmer.

Well cast, well directed, well done for Pec Playhouse running "To Kill a Mockingbird" ran through July 1.


First 'Pops' symphony series pops (10/24/09).

By Sue Langenberg

Rockford Symphony Orchestra performed its first "Pops" series of the season Saturday evening with "Halloween Fright Night" at the Coronado Theatre.

It was a chance to find a mask or two in the audience, and the musicians to don their wigs, creepy costumes or have a leashed spider in the string section.

Most apt of all was the darkened entrance of musical director Steve Larsen as he slowly rose from the orchestra pit to emerge from a coffin, then return to second act as Igor to greet assistant concertmaster Rachel Handlin as horror-costumed bride.

The spine-tingling selections of music showcased a panorama of scary effects composed throughout the 20th century.  One shared reaction by most was from thriller film "Psycho," directed by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock in 1960.  Composer Bernard Herrmann took strings only through three movements to portray the effects from Prelude to Murder to Finale.  Whether the screeching rhythms of this film, or the dizzying arpeggios in another RSO selection "Vertigo," Hermann was prolific in his uncanny ability to provide suspenseful effects of fears in the night.

Other than suspense, Hermann took imagery further with percussive fullness and discordant nightmares to level off at lovely Scene d’amour as light, dreamy, heartfelt and beautiful suspense in its own way.

Hitchcock found his way on another RSO selection with Charles Gounod’s ‘50s theme music of the black-and-white television suspense series.  The "Funeral March for a Marionette" was a great horn display with a playful dirge.

Notable also was the electric and energizing music from "Thriller," composed by Rod Temperton and arranged by Bill Holcombe.  The images of the late Michael Jackson, now also ghostly, were none-the-less powerful memories of musical storms gone by.

Reaching 75 years back into the 20th century, RSO performed the overture to the film, "King Kong," composed by Max Steiner who was among the first to provide extensive musical movie scores. The tension and climbing effect was ever-present as well as the femme fatale delicacy.

Robert Wendel composed "Trick or Treat," as well as wonderful, "The Ride of the Headless Horsemen," a rich, full-bodied blast of energy with much horse power to relate classic literature. A "trick" against Larsen as he was poised at the top of the piece was a sneaky tape of a neighing horse from the orchestra for a few moments of laughter.

Other Halloween selections included the theme from "Ghostbusters," Robert Wendel’s innocent tale, "Trick or Treat," "Witchcraft," by Cy Coleman, scary dental selection, "Extraction on No. 8," by Michael Schelle, Suite from the film, "The Bride of Frankenstein," by Franz Waxman and "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," by Paul Dukas.

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