Taken for what it is — that is, not held up in comparison to the book and film that bore it — Studio Arena Theatre’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is as pleasant an evening of theater as can be had.

Produced by Road Less Traveled Productions and featuring local actors, this play features superb performances and creative set usage.

The play, like the previous incarnations of “Mockingbird,” follows southern lawyer Atticus Finch as he defends a black man in a rape trial in the 1930s. Although he knows his odds are slim, Finch gives his all to the defense of Tom Robinson, earning equal helpings of respect from the town’s black population and ire from prejudiced whites.

Doug Zschiegner, who serves as associate director at Niagara University during the day, performs well the lawyer’s role previously occupied on film by Gregory Peck. Aside from capturing Finch’s quiet determination, Zschiegner carries himself at all times like the sort of man everyone should aspire to be — someone who does the right thing not for fame or fortune, but because it’s the right thing.

The child actors were the ones stealing the show, though. Cory Grzechowiak as Jem, Faith Sheehan as Scout and Joseph Westphal (a sixth-grader at St. Amelia’s School in the Town of Tonawanda) as Dill admirably portray a trio of tikes who spend their summer learning some of life’s harshest lessons, with Sheehan especially maintaining a youthful curiosity as the play’s events unfolded.

Due to time constraints, Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of the Harper Lee novel does without several of the personal insights that so endeared the book and movie to generations of fans. The 2 1/2 hour production does not lack for emotion, however, as the essence of the story remains untouched.

The play may slightly lack in the impact of its forebearers; the courtroom scene, for example, drew more laughs when portrayed on stage than were ever intended in the novel.

That, however, is in no way is the fault of — or diminishes the performance of — a local troupe of actors who bring their best to this play. If Studio Arena’s recent financial troubles force dire decisions on the venue’s future, “Mockingbird” proves it won’t be from a lack of quality shows.

Contact reporter Paul Laneat 693-1000, ext. 116.


• WHAT: Performances of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

• WHEN: Most nights through Feb. 24, with matinee shows on weekends

• WHERE: Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St., Buffalo

• MORE INFORMATION: Call 856-5650

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