Aaron Sorkin’s reimagined To Kill A Mockingbird comes to Richmond

by | Feb 17, 2024 | Arts and Entertainment

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

For Fredericksburg Today

On February 27th Broadway In Richmond brings Aaron Sorkin’s reimagined To Kill A Mockingbird to the Altria Theater. The play opened on Broadway’s Shubert Theater on November 1, 2018, but had to close for the COVID shutdown in March 2020. The production resumed at the Shubert Theater on October 5, 2021 and concluded its run on January 16, 2022. The current tour stars many of the original Broadway cast including Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch. Fredericksburg Today spoke to actor Ted Koch who plays Bob Ewell, a despicable character who abuses his daughter and falsely accuses a Black man, Tom Robinson, of rape. Koch talked about updating an American classic, how audiences are responding to it, and about playing the villain role. 

For those of us who grew up with reading Harper Lee’s novel, or seeing the 1962 movie with Gregory Peck, how is this new take on To Kill A Mockingbird Different?

Koch, Ted


I think I would say there are some differences that are important to note. In the book for the most part and in the movie Atticus is pretty much a hero figure. He’s almost seen not to have any flaws. What Aaron Sorkin did with the play is try to figure out what are the flaws that Atticus has that he can overcome through the arc of the story. I think one of them is that Atticus is almost too forgiving, always talking about how you have to walk in another person’s shoes to figure out what they’re really about. He doesn’t see the fact that sometimes fighting against ignorance is really important until the end of the play. Instead of sitting back and saying they’ll figure out their goodness in their due time; sometimes that doesn’t happen. So you have to stand up and fight. I think in finding a way to make Atticus grow, he did the story a service.

The other really smart thing that Aaron did is he gave the African-American actors much more agency. So Tom, played by Yaegel Welch and Copernia played by Jacqueline Williams have an agency to speak their mind and talk about their experiences in this 1930’s world. You don’t really get that in the book or the movie so much. Harper Lee wrote the book in the 1960’s talking about the 30’s so now we’re in 2024 and we’re looking back on the 30’s. 

How has Sorkin changed the character you play, Bob Ewell?

You do see more of Bob and you hear more of his world view as a juxtaposition of what’s going on. You have to see what these people are up against and fighting against. The only way that I can play Bob is to trick myself into believing that I’m the hero. I’m trying to save the world from a terrible scourge, but it’s a bit of a mind trick. Unless people hate me I’m not doing my job. 

I’ve heard that playing an evil character can be more fun than playing a moral one.

It can be freeing, but then there’s the other side where you walk out the stage door and no one wants to look you in the eye. It takes a while to get out of that suit after you’ve been walking around in it. 

Some plays seem too self-conscious when they try to address current issues in an old work.

I hope that’s not what’s true with this. Does it go far enough in today’s world and where we are in this country? I don’t know. But it’s trying and I think our heart is in the right place. 

I know one of the things that struck Aaron related to the theme of how Atticus is different is that during the writing of this the “Unite The Right” riots happened in Charlottesville. Then President Trump talked about how there were very fine people on both sides of that issue. Aaron thought although it’s vastly different characters and issues, that’s kind of what Atticus is doing, excusing the behavior. So that’s one of the things he tried to add into the play. 

I’ve been in this production since 2018 when we first opened on Broadway. When the opportunity came up to take it on the road I thought it was going to be interesting to see how this play resonates around the country, not just in our liberal New York bubble. So far it’s been really gratifying. 

Is the play received differently in different cities?

I can see differences in laughter because Sorkin did write a good amount of humor into the script and how serious people take it or don’t take it. Sometimes the audience is very quiet and listening and taking it in and sometimes they can join in and be raucous with us. That can be different night to night as well as town to town. The audience is a character you know. Sometimes the audience can be tired from working all week on a Friday night. That can be different than an audience that wants to come see a show on a Thursday night. There was an interesting article I read that said audiences in a theater when they’re engaged in a piece can actually start to breathe in unison and almost have the same pulse rate. I thought that was fascinating because that’s one of the things you gotta love about theater. In this day and age when we’re on our screens and our computers, being in the same room with people has a value and a meaning. We’re all in the same room. It’s not like we’re up on the screen and we don’t hear or sense what you’re feeling and seeing. Yesterday we did a student matinee for 3000 high school kids. Their reaction to Bob and his language was super raucous so I had to fight through all that. It probably upped my stakes in terms of my energy and how hard I had to push after what I wanted. 

Use of the ‘N’ word has become a delicate issue, has this play had to deal with that?

Aaron doesn’t shy away from it. The fact of the matter is that in the 1930’s it wasn’t considered as bad a word as we think of it today. It was just flung about. I think it shocks people at first, rightfully so. Hopefully by the end you go “yeah, that’s a terrible word, but we’re still using it”. 

Since the play ended it’s run on Broadway, what comes after this tour?

The tour is ending in June, maybe it will extend a little bit. The play will hopefully be given to the regions and there will be differently realized productions of it all over the place. For me I just go back to New York and hit the pavement and see what happens next. 


“To Kill a Mockingbird” plays the Altria Theater, 6 North Laurel Street, Richmond from Feb 27 to Mar. 3. Tickets are $25-$98.50; check ticket availability at altriatheater.com 


Subscribe To Daily News Updates

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news from The Free Press

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This