Photo credit: Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Photo credit: Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Harper Lee classic winds down Broadway Columbia County season

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” has made the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged book list several years.

One performer doesn’t believe it should ever be banned, rather it should be retold time and again.

“It’s Important that the book does not get banned,” said Jacqueline Williams, the Black actress playing the role of Calpurnia in the national touring production of the play that will be at the Columbia County Performing Arts Center April 30 and May 1. “This is part of our history. If you’re going to teach history, teach all of it – the good and the unpleasant and the bad and the ugly. We cannot go forward until we understand and know from whence we came.”

Photo credit: Maeve Moynihan (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The story of a White lawyer, Atticus Finch, who in this production is played by actor Richard Thomas, as he represents Tom Robinson, a Black man falsely accused of rape in 1950s’ Alabama, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is also the coming-of-age tale of Finch’s daughter, Scout. It deals with roots of racism in the American South.

Although written during the mid-20th century, it’s a story that is relevant for today, Williams said.

 “We have made very little progress. We still need this story. We still have a lot of work to do. That is why it’s still important. In many ways, we need it even more today. That’s why we’re still out there performing this,” she said.

The Broadway performer has appeared in multiple productions during her career dealing with social issues.

 “Traveling with the Market Theatre of Johannesburg in ‘Born in the R.S.A.’ was important because at the time Nelson Mandela was still in prison. ‘From the Mississippi Delta’ was important – not only because my family is from Mississippi, but it was important for women’s empowerment.  Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland had a really incredible life, working herself up from nothing and becoming part of the Civil Rights movement, getting her doctorate. She had an amazing life, empowering women that way,” she said.

And she believes her role of Calpurnia is another impactful one especially in this stage adaptation.

Over the years, some critics have called Harper Lee’s depiction of Calpurnia as one dimensional; however, Williams sees Calpurnia as having an integral role in the Finch family, much more than just a domestic cooking, cleaning and caring for Jem and Scout.

The Aaron Sorkin adaptation keeps the overall tone and themes of the Lee novel but fleshes out the characters of both Calpurnia and Tom Robinson, she said.

 Williams feels that the relationship between Atticus and Calpurnia is at the heart of the play.

 “Calpurnia and Atticus have been essentially raising these children together,” she said. “She’s been their surrogate mother since Scout was two. Her relationship with Atticus, their confidance of each other, there’s a lot of trust, years of honesty. They really have a beautiful relationship people will become privy of. There’s a lot of playfulness. It’s beautiful. Then, there are a lot of things Calpurnia schools Atticus on,” she said.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” ends the 2023-2024 Broadway Columbia County season.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for more than 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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