Yesterday, we saw an afternoon performance of To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the classic one-shot novel by Harper Lee.
I haven’t read the novel since high school, and I only dimly remember it. (I plainly need, now, to read it again.) I recall more clearly the black and white film adapted from the novel. In fact, when I think of Gregory Peck, I think of him as Atticus Finch.
Atticus Finch has, I’m told, been voted by somebody or other the greatest lawyer hero in fiction, or in movies, or something like that. And I can understand why. It’s not just because most other lawyers in film and in novels are greedy, unethical bottom-feeders. No, Atticus is an ordinary man who rises to greatness, not only very obviously in the courtroom but in daily life as a father. When, at a certain moment in the story, all the folks in the courtroom’s “colored” section rise to honor him, I feel like rising, too. In fact, years ago, when my wife and I visited the then still-new Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles and, in the crypt, unexpectedly found ourselves standing before the tomb of one of its first occupants, the devoutly Catholic Gregory Peck, I felt a thrill not of star worship but of moral awe that surprised me deeply. (I also admire him enormously in the role of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in the film The Scarlet and the Black, which is based on a true story out of World War Two.)
In the evening, we attended a performance of Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known and rarely performed plays. Very different from To Kill a Mockingbird – though, curiously, they’re linked through plots that focus on rape, lies, murder or attempted murder, revenge, and gross injustice. Maybe, in a way, not so different after all, deep below the surface.
Truth be told, I’d seen at least one prior performance of Titus Andronicus, and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it again. Cultural duty, really. After all, it’s Shakespeare. But they did an excellent job (apart from some issues of voice projection) and I thoroughly enjoyed the play, which came across as considerably better than I had recalled. It’s pretty gruesome, though the gore is mostly offstage and is handled very well even when on stage, and I wouldn’t recommend it as one’s first exposure to performed Shakespeare, but . . . Well, I do recommend it.
I think it could be read as a critique of unbending rigidity, on the part of the title character, and of an insatiable lust for revenge on the part of Tamora, the queen of the Goths who becomes empress of Rome, showing the disasters that they bring down on their own heads and on those whom they love through their lack of mercy. There is also a brief but very direct attack on what the play depicts as the utterly vicious and explicitly atheist amorality of Aaron the Moor that would, I think, not go down well in certain circles these days.
All in all, something of a surprise. As I say, far better and more satisfying than I had expected.
Cedar City, Utah.