To Kill a Mockingbird takes the Guthrie Theater stage this month, running from September 18 through October 18. Harper Lee’s classic story centers on a Black man accused of rape, with White lawyer Atticus Finch defending him. The trial further divides a racially prejudiced community in Alabama in the mid-1930s and is told through the eyes of “Scout,” Finch’s young daughter.
“I think more people remember it as a movie [than a book]” that stars Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in the iconic 1962 Oscar-winning film, said local actress Regina Marie Williams of her 10th Guthrie appearance in a MSR phone interview.
“I’m playing the character [Calpurnia] that is a motherly figure for these children. She loves them and takes care of them. I think first and foremost, it’s her job and she does her job in the way that she knows how to do her job… in a motherly way.
“She’s important because the children don’t have a mother — their mother is dead and they live with their father, who’s only a fatherly figure…and the children refer to him by his first name,” continued Williams. “To Kill a Mockingbird is so well known. I haven’t done a classic play before. It’s a smaller role but a significant role. I’m enjoying it. I’m grateful to do it.”
When asked about any challenges channeling herself into a 1930’s Black woman, Williams replied, “That’s a great question. I think those are important actor choices when you bring something into the character from today, especially in playing roles like this, which were so traditional for us [Black actors]. It’s so often [that] you do have to make those adjustments on how you want to play the character… ”
However, Williams pointed out, “In my character, and this particular role, I don’t make a lot of adjustments. I don’t feel any limitations in this particular piece in the way my character is written.” She researched performances by Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen. “There is a way to find dignity in such roles, she noted.
“There are so many mighty lessons” that can be learned from the play, continued Williams. “The play stands by itself as a very fine story that I believe everyone can appreciate. The play is entertaining and a great story. It will make you think about what you do in this world.”
Williams says she longs for the day when there’s more variety in the roles available for Black actors. “The roles that we as African American women — maids, prostitutes or the housekeeper — get to [play] are a bit frustrating at times. The reality is that we have been maids and housekeepers. [So] then how do we bring dignity [to these roles]? I’m grateful for the role, but I’m mightily grateful for playwrights coming out today and writing roles for African American women that don’t have to be housekeepers — where we can take care of our own kids rather than somebody else’s.”
After Mockingbird, Williams said her upcoming projects include a role in Sister Act at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, and playing the late singer Nina Simone in Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre.
“It is really exciting and I’m grateful that Minneapolis is the place to explore who we are,” said Williams.
To Kill a Mockingbird runs September 12 — October 18, 2015 on The Guthrie Theater’s Wurtele Thrust Stage, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415. Ticket info: 612-377-2224 or visit the website.
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