A modern-day twist on a classic

Upcoming Royal MTC play inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird

Playwright Audrey Dwyer took inspiration from Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird for her new play Calpurnia. (Supplied photo: Dahlia Katz)

If the literary classic To Kill A Mockingbird were adapted to reflect the current reality, what would the story look like? The answer to this question lies in Calpurnia, a new Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Royal MTC) production premiering on March 24.

Written by Audrey Dwyer, the play centres on Julie Gordon as she aims to make a movie from the viewpoint of To Kill A Mockingbird character Calpurnia. Given that Calpurnia is a maid at the Finch household and didn’t have the same upbringing as Julie, she struggles to prove herself worthy to tell this story, even though she comes from a place of privilege.

Although the play deals with heavily charged subjects such as racism and inequality, Dwyer says the story has a comedic feel.

“If someone hasn’t read the book before, they will definitely be in for a fun and comedic night at the theatre. I think one of the major differences in our social sphere right now is that we are talking about (racism). This play is an opportunity for people to see themselves and their values or obstacles in a way that is delightful, kind of awkward and funny,” she says.

Centering Calpurnia as the main character is far from the play’s only connection to Harper Lee’s classic novel. According to Dwyer, most of the characters in the play were inspired by those in the book.

“I read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school, and when I decided that I wanted to write this play, I went back to the book and did a bit of comparison and contrast with the characters in my play. The father (in Calpurnia) is like Atticus Finch, and Julie is like Scout. The other characters in the play have similar behaviours and personalities to the ones in the book, and that was an intentional choice, because I wanted to examine To Kill A Mockingbird through a modern lens,” Dwyer says.

Following the social and political impact of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, Calpurnia doesn’t shy away from the hard questions. Actress Emerjade Simms, who plays Julie in the production, says audiences will feel reflected in her character’s journey throughout the story.

“It’s a lot of wondering about your voice and how you can use it. I think that this play is really good at drawing a mirror to society and showing the ways that we are all very flawed and need to have grace. It’s an examination of race, class and feminism. If you want to have a good laugh and time to think, this is for you,” Simms says.

Calpurnia isn’t the only thought-provoking project to land on the Royal MTC stage. The theatre company recently announced its planned 2022-23 season. Amongst the production lineup starting in October are Network, The Three Musketeers, Into the Woods and an Audrey Dwyer-directed piece called Trouble in Mind.

Calpurnia runs from March 24 to Apr. 16. For tickets and additional information about the play, visit royalmtc.ca.

Published in Volume 76, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 17, 2022)

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