National Geographic : 2006 Jan
falsely accused black man. "It's 1935 and survival means 'yassuh this and that,' and being mindful and second-class," says McCorvey. "I had a difficult time with the role until I could leave who I really am and realize I am not in the 21st century." The cast volunteers their time. "We're not putting on a play," says director Kathy McCoy, "we're sending a message of racial tolerance." The show has traveled to Washington, D.C., Hull, England, and Jerusalem, where the jury, drawn from an Israeli audience, balked at finding Tom Robinson guilty. "We wondered what was taking them so long," said McCorvey. "It turned out they wanted to acquit. They were arguing with the actor who plays the sheriff, who explained that they had to convict." Though the actor playing the prosecuting attorney once went blank, asked to approach the bench, and was fed his line by the judge, the cast performs like pros. You get the feeling if Broadway called, more than a few would be on their way in a New York minute. They step into char acter and, sometimes, linger. "I've signed checks 'Boo Radley' and had them clear," Champion said. The actors appear before sold-out audiences, but the one person in town who has never seen the play is Harper Lee. She abhors anything that trades on the book's fame. As reported in the Chicago Tribune by Marja Mills, when the Monroe County Heritage Museums began selling Calpurnia's Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from the cast ("before killing a chicken, be sure to put in coop or small pen and feed well for at least one week," one entry instructs), Lee demanded it be yanked. (Calpurnia is the Finches' housekeeper.) The museum dutifully complied. Gentle Reader, you will not be hearing from Harper Lee here. She no longer gives interviews. ("Hell no" was a response to one inquirer.) She lives most of the year in New York and travels by train to stay with her sister in Monroeville. Though Lee once told a journalist, "all I want to be is the Jane Austen of south Alabama," she never published another novel. After the flurry of publicity following Mockingbird,she retreated into silence. "She just wants to be left alone. She is not reclusive-she goes out with In the play's second act, Calpurnia (Dott Bradley, foreground), the Finches' housekeeper, and other members of the black community who have been relegated to watching the trial from the balcony, grieve after the jury pro nounces Tom Robinson guilty. As Atticus prepares to leave the courtroom, they all rise to acknowl edge his courage. Scout has been watching from the balcony too. "Miss Jean Louise, stand up," the Reverend Sykes instructs her. "Your father's passin'."