Students, veteran actors alike shine in Compass Rose's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

After a successful inaugural three-play season at its Eastport Shopping Center location, Compass Rose Studio Theater opens its second season with Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation of Harper Lee's acclaimed novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."

The play's strong script and powerful message make it an ideal vehicle for the Annapolis acting academy-theater.

"Since opening its doors to students in 2010, Compass Rose has reached over 400 from age 3 to senior citizens in 10 Anne Arundel venues," founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne said. "Passion for live theater grows through dramatic arts education. Students can audition to perform on stage with professional actors, and vehicles are chosen with casting students in mind."

Opening Compass Rose's first season last fall, a cast of students and professional actors brought a fresh glow to Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lost in Yonkers." This second season starts with another Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic, staged in a reconfigured, centrally located performance area, with audience members facing one another across the stage.

Modest space fosters creativity in Thanh Van Lam's minimal set design, with a single tree defining Maycomb, Ala., in 1935. The Finch family home is suggested by a single doorway, and another doorway defines the neighboring Radley home. An opposite doorway stands for the city jail that lawyer Atticus Finch stands before, guarding his imprisoned client, Tom Robinson, from an approaching mob. Between Acts 1 and 2, a simple courtroom is created for the climactic trial scene.

JoAnn Gidos provides props and set decoration. Lighting designer Eric Bowers creates atmospheric shadows and light, while sound designer Sarah Wade's skills enhance drama and suspense. Costume designer Julie Bays brings charming authenticity to her creations.

Director Brandon McCoy, who brought distinction to "Lost in Yonkers," opens Compass Rose's second season by drawing nuanced performances from the student and seasoned actors who form his "Mockingbird" cast.

Compass Rose audiences will discover young actors who give life to the characters. Young characters are central, with tomboy Scout as the protagonist. Young Jean Louise, or "Scout," becomes the adult narrator. Scout's older brother, Jem, is widower Finch's only other child.

Respected small-town attorney Finch courageously defends Robinson, the black field hand accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman. Mayella is the abused daughter of racist Bob Ewell, who claims to have witnessed Robinson's crime and stirs hatred among the townsfolk.

In this production, Scout is capably portrayed by Key School fourth-grader Maggie Baum, who at age 9 is a veteran of several Compass Rose classes and productions. Maggie beautifully conveys Scout's belief in people's essential goodness and displays Scout's innate courtesy, which restores adult decency.

Jem is played by Key School seventh-grader Casey Baum, 12, a three-year Compass Rose student who appeared in several camp productions. He conveys Jem's stable influence, reflecting his father's ethical values.

As summer neighbor Dill, Jones Elementary fourth-grader Timothy DeSimone, 9, makes a strong debut in his first professional production after completing two Compass Rose camps.

As the adult Scout, Elizabeth Jernigan brings insight while managing not to intrude on the stage action.

Baltimore actor Gary Goodson's portrayal of Atticus Finch combines the attorney's innate decency with Southern gentility. Propelled by steely resolve, Goodson's Atticus establishes the implausibility of Robinson's having committed the crime he's accused of, and demolishes accuser Mayella Ewell's lies. Goodson unleashes Atticus' righteous anger on witness Bob Ewell, a miscreant convincingly played by Ric Andersen in his Compass Rose debut.

Lonnie Simmons' portrayal of falsely accused Tom Robinson conveys the character's hope for justice despite his resignation to the likely outcome to be delivered by an all-white Southern jury.

Rounding out this impressive ensemble of actors are Kristala Pouncy, as Finch family disciplinarian and housekeeper Calpurnia, and Faith Potts, who expertly plays justice advocate and the Atticus children's adult friend Maude Atkinson, in addition to ill-tempered, racist neighbor Mrs. Dubose. Local actor Michael Dunlop plays Sheriff Heck Tate, who supports Atticus and works to protect the innocent.

Another local actor, Sue Struve, plays cranky, gossipy neighbor Miss Stephanie. Chris Shea plays Mr. Gilmer and poor farmer Mr. Cunningham, who creates a pivotal scene when, after encountering Scout outside the jail, he persuades the lynch mob to disperse. As Mayella Ewell, Olivia Ercolano poignantly portrays an abused, ignorant, lonely woman.

Tim Wolf impresses in three roles: as Robinson's employer and defender Link Deas and as brothers Nathan and Boo Radley. Tim German plays kindly Reverend Sykes, and Robert Mitchell is Judge Taylor, who presides over the trial.

As another professional theater becoming firmly established in the Annapolis area, Compass Rose deserves the support of all live theater fans.

Weekend performances continue through Nov. 18. Tickets may be ordered at or by calling 410-980-6662.

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