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'Mockingbird' remains relevant 50 years later

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Be it on paper, the screen or the stage, "To Kill a Mockingbird" remains as fresh and as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

The stage adaptation of Harper Lee's novel will play at the Black Hills Playhouse throughout the month starting June 12 and ending June 28.

It's the timeless story of a young tomboy, "Scout" Finch, spending an Alabama summer with her brother, Jem, and cousin, Dill, while her lawyer father, Atticus, defends an African-American man wrongfully accused of the rape of a white woman.

Director Matt Nesmith says that he jumped at the chance to direct the show after BHP artistic director Matt Workman, a friend from graduate school and frequent colleague at the venue, asked him to join.

"That book has helped develop so many people's cultural awareness over the years," Nesmith said. "It's such a powerful piece of writing no matter what form it takes."

Dan Workman will play Atticus, and Nesmith praised his ability to give a new, nuanced take on "a warrior for what is right and equal."

"That's always a challenge, playing an iconic role, and it's hard not to think of Gregory Peck," Nesmith said of the actor who won an Oscar playing the role. "But Dan is a phenomenal actor, and his take is one who shares his emotions more easily even as he's still true to the character."

Nesmith also praised the young actors playing Scout, Jem and Dill.

"For Scout, Kelley Wicks hasn't been in a show before," Nesmith. "And that brings a kind of innocence, a place of natural learning that's perfect for Scout. She and the other two kids are great."

Like many, Nesmith said he first encountered the book in high school, though he says he didn't fully understand its significance and relevance at the time.

"It's really over time where you see how relevant it still is," Nesmith said. "Equality and race relations are still an issue. The n-word, which is used a lot by the characters, is still an emotionally charged, hurtful word."

Nesmith said he and the cast took time to explore the historical and cultural relevance of the slur so they'd fully grasp its power when performing.

"I hope people take away that even in situations where you know you might not win, it's important to strive to do the right thing," Nesmith said. "And that equality is still a movement in motion, not something that's complete."

Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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