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Coming of age in the racially troubled South

Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, a year after it was published. A year later it was made into a movie with an Academy Award-winning screenplay by Southern playwright Horton Foote. Oregon Stage Works will stage Christopher Sergel's adaptation of the book next week. The show will preview at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, March 20 and 21, and preview tickets are $10. The play opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 22, and runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 22.

Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" during the 1950s, a racially tense time in her home state of Alabama. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, almost single-handely starting the Civil Rights Movement. Lee set her story in the mythical town of Maycomb in rural Alabama in 1932, mixing elements from her own childhood and the social, racial and gender inequality in the American South.

The story of one man's stand against racial prejudice is told through the eyes of his young daughter, Scout. Scout and her brother Jem are busy enjoying the games and freedoms summer brings when their lawyer father, Atticus, agrees to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of rape. The alleged victim, Mayella Ewell, is white. As the community around them struggles with old fears and with change, Scout and Jem grow into a new maturity and compassion.

Director Peter Alzado describes "To Kill a Mockingbird" as an American classic, a play that speaks directly to audiences of our day.

"There seems to be a really significant malaise in our country," Alzado says, "a sense that one person can no longer make a difference. So this is a good time for us to take a look at a man of integrity and the impact he has on his children, the way that one man of character and substance can give the next generation something to stand up for."

In fact, says Alzado, children are the play's focal-point. "This play carries such hope," Alzado says, "because we see that the children will carry this story with them for their whole lives. We see the impact events have on them, and that's what gives the play such power."

The actors who play these children all come from the Acting Academy of OSW's Ashland Children's Theatre.

Nine-year old Sierra Allegra Wood will play Scout. A veteran of commercials and films, Sierra was last seen in OSW's productions of "Scroogical" and "The Crucible." She has long hair but got an authentic depression-era haircut and planned to donate her hair to Locks of Love, an organization that gives hair to cancer victims.

Miko Hughes appeared in OSW's "Our Town." Colin Chasey, who played in Ashland Children's Theatre's "The Peter Pan Project," makes his OSW mainstage debut.

The play also features Sam King, a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts. After working in theater in New York and Los Angeles, King moved to Ashland, where his most recent OSW appearances include "On Golden Pond" and "The Wild Guys."

Joining him is Judith Sanford, who trained at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal and worked in Quebec and Toronto on stage and in film and TV. She performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for six seasons and was last seen at OSW in "Our Town" and "Copenhagen." Other OSW veterans include Brian Wallace, who worked in film, TV and theater in Los Angeles before relocating to Ashland and who was seen most recently at OSW in "The Crucible" and "Scroogical"; Rochelle Savitt, of Southern California's South Coast Repertory and OSW's "Crossing Delancey"; and Steve Wood, "The Crucible."

Karyn Joseph makes her OSW debut after performing in musicals and theater productions in the United States, Canada and Japan. Joining her are Wrick Jones, a veteran of Actors Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Joe Charter, who last appeared in Camelot Theatre's "Beard of Avon"; Larry Aerni, Ty Boyce, Scott Ford, Phylesia Fratus, Hessan Harris, Tim Kelly and Terry Kolkey.

Peter Alzado holds an MFA in directing from the University of Montana. He most recently directed OSW's productions of "Crossing Delancy" and "The Crucible." "Cyber Seranade," which he directed at the former Actors' Theatre, in Talent, was nominated as the best new play produced outside New York City by the American Critics Association.

The show's stage manager is Lisa Marie Wingbermuehle, with assistance from Stephanie Edwards. Chris Premi is in charge of lighting design and Charles S. Couraud of scenic painting; Doug Ham is Set Design Consultant. Rhonda Lawrence designed the costumes for the show.

OSW will donated the entire proceeds of the performance Thursday, April 5, to the American Humanics Student Association, an association of students training for non-profit service. For benefit tickets, contact Linda Richards at 944-5960.

The theater will also offer a special senior night on Thursday, March 29. Tickets will be available for $12 to all seniors 65 and over.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" will run at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 22. Tickets are $17 and $10 for students. Tickets are available at Grocery Outlet in Medford and the Music Coop in Ashland. Call 482-2334.

Judith Sanford (left) and Sierra Wood in a scene from the Oregon Stage Works production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” - OSW photo by Jenny Graham