A well-known tale of racial tensions continues tonight, in the latest production the Henry Players.
The acting group will continue its production of "To Kill a Mockingbird," tonight through Sunday, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough. The play opened Thursday, and will resume tonight, through Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee showing Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Mary Ellen Lundy, a former board member for the Players, is directing the production. She said the play is based on a novel Pulitzer-Prize- winning author, Harper Lee.
"It's based loosely on events that happened in her childhood," said Lundy. "It's set in 1935, and it's about racial prejudice, and how civilized people did not behave very civilized ... at that time."
The main character in "Mockingbird" is attorney Atticus Finch, a widower raising his children. Lundy said Finch becomes embroiled in a controversy when he is appointed to defend a black man unjustly accused of attacking a white woman.
"Most of the people in the town don't understand why he's taking the case," explained Lundy. "They all have a lot of respect for Atticus, and they expect him to do the right thing all the time, but yet this is a time when their version of the right thing, and his version, clash."
The director added that, because of the racially-charged themes in the production, she made a decision to keep certain elements of the play as authentic as possible.
"We do use the ‘N' word quite a few times in this show," said Lundy. "But if you take it out, it just defeats the whole purpose of what this story is about. [Lee] was trying to make people aware of the ... cruelty and the meanness of people, and how unfair they were ... just because of their racial makeup."
Lundy said "Mockingbird" has been requested numerous times, audiences of past productions. She said she hopes viewers will increase in their understanding and compassion toward others, through the play.
"I hope that it enlightens them," said Lundy. "They'll probably see somebody they know on that stage, in a character."
Robert Oden, who has been featured in several Players' productions, is the assistant director for "Mockingbird." He described it as a "very powerful piece," adding that he hopes to reach audiences with its message.
"I know there are some ... sensitivities involved, but the way things are now, I think it's a great time for it," said Oden. "[Students in] a lot of schools are reading the book. It's the story of a town that actually gets to take a look at itself. It's a story of the people in the town who have pride in being southerners, and also pride in the town's history, [who are] ashamed at some of [the] things that are going on in the town."
Some of the actors in the production are relatively new to a Henry Players stage. Local attorney, Matt McCord, portrays Atticus Finch in the play, and said the opportunity enabled him to revisit his love of performing.
"I've been an actor for a long time," he said. "I was actually a music major in college, and did a little bit of professional work."
McCord added that taking on the character of Finch proved to be a daunting task.
"The challenge in this show is, to somehow come from the gravity of soul that Atticus Finch [had]," said McCord. "That guy is an amazing human being. It's tough to step into that role, becoming somebody that good with that kind of integrity and decency."
Henry State Court Judge Ben Studdard was not seeking a role in the play, when Lundy asked him to assume the part of a judge in "Mockingbird." Studdard said being a part of the production, brings his connection to the Players "full circle."
"When I was practicing law, I incorporated the Henry Players ... as a non-profit [organization]," the judge said. "So I was there at the beginning. I'm happy to ... be a part of it."
Studdard added that the experience of being in the production, has given him a new appreciation for the Henry Players, and their dedication to the acting craft.
"They're amazing," he said. "They're so professional, and I'm so impressed with them."
Henry Tax Commissioner David Curry's entire family is associated with the production, in one fashion or another. His wife, Nicole, is the narrator for the play, and three of his children — son Jacob, 12, daughter Kennedy, 10, and son Caleb, 8 — are actors in the play.
Curry's daughter Michaela, 15, is part of the stage crew for "Mockingbird." The tax commissioner, who has an unnamed part in the play, said his family enjoys supporting the local acting troupe.
"The kids have been part of it before, and we certainly encourage them to try out for it," he said. "We feel like the ability to be on stage, have a presence, and speak in front of crowds, is a lost talent."
Caleb Curry is portraying the role of Dill, one of the major characters in the production. He, too, said he did not plan to audition for the part, but is glad he did.
"My sister ... wrote my name on the [audition] board without me knowing," he said. "I said, ‘Okay, I'll do it.' Everybody [said] I'm the funniest character, and I like being the funniest character in the play."
Nicole Curry said working on "Mockingbird" with her family, has been beneficial for all of them.
"As a family, being in it together, we get to go home and rehearse our lines," she said. "It's been a lot easier to learn parts."
The tax commissioner's wife said "Mockingbird" is one of her favorite films, because it carries a message with an "important theme."
"Even now, I think it speaks volumes to kids ... about prejudices and being treated fairly," Nicole Curry said.
Tickets for the production are $12 for adults, and $10 for children and seniors. For more details, visit www.henryplayers.com.