‘Teachable moments’ part of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 31, 2013

SALISBURY — Stuart Jonap has always wanted to play the role of literary hero Atticus Finch. He’ll get his wish next week when “To Kill a Mockingbird” opens at the Meroney Theater.
“Just know I’m not Gregory Peck,” Jonap said. “This is my own interpretation of Atticus Finch.”
Jonap said it’s an honor to play the well-known attorney in the Piedmont Players Theatre production.
“He’s genuinely a nice man, but he’s very pragmatic,” he said. “I’m always thinking about how much passion to show because he’s got passion, but it’s not always written that way, he says things very matter-of-fact-like. That makes Atticus much more fun to play.”
The play is set in Maycomb, Ala. in 1935, as Finch defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman named Mayella. Defending Robinson makes the attorney and his family unpopular in town.
During the trial, Finch teaches his children, Scout and Jem, about prejudice.
An eighth-grade English teacher at North Stanly Middle School, Natasha Tyson Wall, said “To Kill a Mockingbird” provides a good lesson in social justice.
“There are a lot of teachable moments,” she said. “Atticus Finch is standing up for a man he knows is innocent because he knows it’s the right thing to do.”
Wall is playing the family housekeeper, Calpurnia, for the second time in five years. Her first performance was in Albermarle.
“This role was very close to me when I played it in 2008,” she said. “I really wanted to see what it was like with a new director and a new set.”
Piedmont Players Director Reid Leonard said although the racial tensions present when the book was written in 1960 aren’t an issue now, the story continues to be relevant.
“Man’s inhumanity to man is still an issue,” he said.
Leonard said at times the play has been painful to direct.
“I remember segregated restaurants, I remember segregated classrooms,” he said. “A lot of this is my history, which is one of the reasons why through the years I haven’t wanted to do the show. It really is hard to do, but at the same time it’s such a spectacular story.
“How do you know what’s right and wrong when you’re in the middle of it?”
Leonard said the play provides the opportunity to cast people from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
The play is written by Christopher Sergel, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harper Lee.