Monroeville, Alabama—the sun is setting. One hundred and nine people wait outside the courthouse to see “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
You can hear crickets downtown.
In line, I meet a millworker from Milton, a mechanic from Montgomery, a Birmingham neurosurgeon, a football coach, a peanut farmer.
Behind me is a literature professor from New Hampshire. He’s a slender man. Polite. He has a big vocabulary. It takes two minutes to discover that “unparalleled” is his favorite word.
He’s driven a long way to see this play. He is a well-known author—I know this because he tells me.
“We’re excited about the show,” says the professor. “We hear it’s unparalleled.”
He’s right. This is the quintessential hometown play, in the world’s most famous hometown—second only to Mayberry.
This production has all my favorite stuff. Clapboard porches, antique automobiles, linen suits, ladies in cotton dresses.
The professor sits a few seats from me. He tells me he’s memorized parts of the famous novel. He demonstrates this. He’s pleased with himself.
“What brings you here tonight?” he asks.
“My cousin, Robert,” I say. “He plays the farmer.”
The play starts. It’s fast paced. The second act is a clencher, taking place inside the old courtroom. It’s a majestic building with heart-pine floors made from trees which were once cut from a forest up the road.
The cast’s delivery is heartfelt. Close your eyes. You can hear sniffles from the audience. Most of those are mine.
Afterward, the professor remarks, “I can NOT articulate how this UNPARALLELED story and its cupidity absolutely ingressed me.”
Well, my vocabulary might be small, but I’m inclined to agree with him. This play is some kind of special. The soft accents, the down-home morals, the women wearing nylons thick enough to stop bullets.
This classic story is about community—one so small you need a magnifying glass to see it. It’s about small-town living. The good, the bad, and the disgusting. About life.
“You’re wrong,” says the professor. “It isn’t about those things. THIS story is THEE unparalleled political message of our time. You missed the whole point.”
I’ll bet this fella is fun at barbecues.
We shake hands. He tells me to buy his new book—he says I’d get a lot out of it.
And who am I to disagree with him? He’s smarter than I am. While he was working on a P.H.D. in postmodern Russian lit, I was practicing spitting for distance into SOLO cups.
Anyway, before I leave the courthouse, I hug a few friendly necks.
Steven: he played a magnificent villain.
Connie: the finest human being, writer, musician, and actress, this side of the Escambia.
Madelyn: she plays Scout, and is as cute as a sackful of puppies.
Director, Stephen Billy: he deserves a Tony Award and a very cold beer.
Look, I’m no literature buff, I have no letters behind my name, I don’t know many twenty-dollar words. But I’m a member of the South Alabamian family, and these actors put on one heart-stopper of a show.
It was a damn fine play. No.
It was unparalleled.