To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee of Monroeville, Ala., wrote just one book.

But what a book.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was published in 1960 and in 1961 won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. In 1962, the late Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defends a young black man accused of raping a young white woman, in the movie version. Peck won the Academy Award that year for his portrayal. Horton Foote also won an Oscar for writing the screenplay.

The reclusive Lee has been in the limelight in recent years. As Truman Capote's friend, confidante and researcher for his book, "In Cold Blood," Lee played a major role in two Capote biopics. Catherine Keener portrayed Lee in 2005's "Capote," while Sandra Bullock played Lee in 2006's "Infamous."

For the first time, the Springer Opera House will presents the stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Directed by Springer associate artistic director and director of the Springer Theater Academy Ron Anderson, it opens tonight.

"It was the right time to do it," Anderson said. "There are still pockets of prejudice. We need to stop and remind ourselves of that.

"This is the story of a man and his children, raising them during the turmoil of racial strife in the 1930s."

"This is such an American story," said Jens Rasmussen, who plays Bob Ewell, Mayella's father. Mayella is the young woman who accused Tom of raping her. The themes of the novel is such that it's good to remember, he said. There's the good vs. evil, social inequality, racism and bravery to stand up to community perspectives.

Anderson said the cast is rarely without a copy of the book. Many of the actors have also marked their scripts with notes.

"At every rehearsal, some one will pull out the book and ask a question," Anderson said.

"The richness of the book is layered into the sparseness of the script."

Because Brian Mani, who plays Finch, has made copious notes, Rasmussen laughs when he thought Mani was a genius.

Mani is an actor Anderson worked with when he was in Milwaukee. He's seen the play once and saw the movie years ago, Mani said.

"I knew a lot of actors in Milwaukee," Anderson said. "Brian was the first actor I thought of and it worked out."

There are many touching scenes, Mani said. "It's just a good story."

Springer favorite Raymond Campbell plays Judge Taylor. As a Columbus court reporter, Campbell has been essential to the court scenes, said Anderson.

"I gave them some of my knowledge," Campbell said modestly.

"No, all the courtroom stuff is from Raymond," Rasmussen said.

"This is such a good ensemble cast," Campbell said. "We're almost ready to produce a show. The cast all relate to each other."

Amy Bishop is another long-time Springer actor and musician. Bishop, the Academy's education coordinator, has been on the stage or in the orchestra pit for more than 65 musicals.

"This is the first straight play I've been in," she said. "It takes us to a time that none of us experienced. It reminded me of real family values and relationships. It's very special and I'm honored to be part of it."

Going from "A Christmas Carol," the holiday favorite, to a serious drama like "To Kill a Mockingbird" sounds tough, but Rasmussen said it's not.

"It's a pleasure," he said. "Variety is the spice of life for an actor."

From this show, he goes into rehearsal for "Doubt," and then will be in "Carousel."

Caroline Garcia is playing Mayella, alternating performances with Kara Ann Felton. Felton is a Columbus High School senior while Garcia is a Columbus State University freshman.

It's Caroline Garcia second time in "To Kill a Mockingbird." In 2002, when she was 12, played Scout in The Human Experience Theatre's production.

The Springer's Scout is Blake Blackmon, a 14-year-old eighth grader at St. Anne School, who says she's learned a lot, "and so does Scout."

Talk backs

After the performance on Saturday and again on Jan. 31, the audience may stay at the Springer and ask questions to a panel of actors, including Mani and Blackmon. Ken Crooks, the executive director of One Columbus will lead the panel, which will also include Anderson. It's free.