IF YOU GO:
■ What: "To Kill a Mockingbird."
■ When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, May 16-17, 23-24, 30-31; 7 p.m. Thursdays, May 22 and 29; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, May 24 and June 1.
■ Where: Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.
■ Admission: $12.50-$25.
■ Phone: 423-267-8534
It's been 22 years since Jim Kennedy performed at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Once a favorite actor of CTC audiences for his character portrayals, Kennedy says child-rearing and family took precedence over acting. But the chance to play the meaty, thought-provoking role of Atticus Finch in the CTC's next mainstage production, "To Kill a Mockingbird," was just too tempting to pass up.
So the actor returns to the CTC stage Friday, May 16, to bring to life Atticus Finch, Harper Lee's small-town lawyer in the local production directed by Chuck Tuttle.
In the novel, a standard on high school reading lists, Atticus is the single father of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch and Jeremy "Jem" Finch. He tries to teach his children by example, showing them that all people should be treated fairly and equally. It is this belief that prompts the attorney to defend Tom Robinson, a local black man in their small Alabama town, on the charge of rape -- an unpopular decision among town residents.
Kennedy says the novel is so enduring "because it is a story of tolerance vs. intolerance and that is a timeless theme. There is always some group suffering from some kind of discrimination or some kind of stereotyping. The whole message of 'you can't really understand a man or the world around you until you see it from the other man's point of view' is important to why this story endures."
Kennedy says he's never been a single parent, so he can only imagine that life, but he can relate to Finch's "really honest and productive relationship" with his children.
The actor says the role of Atticus appeals to him because "he is kind to his kids, but also at times can come down on them pretty soundly if they are misbehaving. He is obviously a guy of strong moral fiber; the truth is really important to him. The character of Atticus is always held up as a paragon of what is right and good."
Legendary actor Gregory Peck won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for his defining portrayal of Atticus Finch. Kennedy knows comparison to Peck is inevitable.
"That's the reason I shouldn't have tried out for this role," he quips. "Peck was the quintessential Atticus."
He jokingly adds that he'll know he's been a success "if people walk out of the theater asking, 'What was the name of that guy who played Atticus in the movie?'"
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...