Gregory Peck was nowhere in sight. Nor was Harper Lee, the celebrated author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” though I was in her hometown and the place to which she returned after living in New York City: Monroeville, Ala.
Each spring in the town square and the county courthouse there, the townspeople put on a play based on Lee’s book, among the greatest American novels and one of the most beloved. This year will mark the production’s 26th season; the play runs weekends from April 10 through May 16 (www.monroecountymuseum.org).
Monroeville’s mayor played the part of Atticus Finch in the rendition I saw. He may have lacked Peck’s polish, but he had a lot of heart. The whole local cast did.
Monroeville, deep in Alabama, about 90 miles northeast of Mobile, has the languid charm of many Southern towns. Visitors get to soak up the sprawling oaks and quaint storefronts during the play’s first act, which takes place on a stage set in the town square. But the second act steals the show. It unfolds inside the courtroom, which looks eerily familiar to fans of the movie. To make the 1962 movie, Universal came to Monroeville, fashioned an exact replica of the courtroom, and shipped it back to Hollywood for filming there.
The startling announcement last week about the publication of a novel Lee wrote before “Mockingbird” reminded me of the play. I’d encourage anyone to go, especially those who admire Lee, or Truman Capote, who spent a lot of time in the town, where he befriended Lee.
Since Lee’s upcoming novel is said to be a sequel of sorts to “Mockingbird,” I have to wonder: Will the play now have a surprise final act — much like Harper Lee?
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.