When Harper Lee first published “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960, she put forth a radical examination of race in America that continues to captivate generations.
Less frequently discussed — especially when many readers first encounter Lee’s masterpiece in their middle or high school English classes — is what some literary experts see as the story’s subtle queer-inclusive undertone. That’s why actor Gideon Glick, currently starring in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, knew he wanted to put those aspects front and center in his performance.
Glick, 30, stars as Dill Harris in the new dramatization, now playing at New York’s Shubert Theatre. Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have made the choice to cast all of the play’s child roles with adult actors, including Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout Finch and Will Pullen as Jem Finch. This unusual device distinguishes the play from both Lee’s book and the 1962 film. It allows the three characters to appear as children as well as narrate some scenes from the perspective of adults reflecting on the action.
As Glick began researching his role, he learned that Dill had been based on author Truman Capote, a lifelong friend of Lee’s. Taking Capote’s significance to the LGBTQ community into account, Glick decided his Dill — aged 10 in the show — would exhibit unapologetic queerness as an adolescent. Similarly, he sees Keenan-Bolger’s Scout as “a very butch, tomboy girl.”
“This is a story about others, empathy and understanding otherness, and Dill is one of the illustrations of that,” the actor, whose credits include “Ocean’s 8” and the original Broadway production of “Spring Awakening,” told HuffPost. “I find it very fascinating that we read this book in school, and yet we don’t teach the fact that this character is based off a very, very famous queer person. I wish it wasn’t that way … because the relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote is a really epic relationship.”
Sorkin’s adaptation maintains the major plot points of Lee’s novel. Dill, along with his pals Scout and Jem, witnesses the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), wrongly accused of raping a young white woman (Erin Wilhelmi) in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama. The defense attorney is Scout and Jem’s widowed father, Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), who is ridiculed by many of his townspeople for agreeing to take on the case.
Since opening in December 2018, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has earned near-universal acclaim and repeatedly broken Shubert Theatre box office records; at present, its advance ticket sales reportedly amount to more than $22 million.
Pointing to America’s current divided political climate, Glick said he isn’t surprised the play’s themes continue to resonate with modern audiences. He and his cast mates have been compelled to become more politically active in their offstage lives, too. “It’s a book written in the 1960s looking back on the ’30s, so we’re now in 2019 looking back on the ’60s looking back on the ’30s, but I don’t think our country has rectified its horrific racist past,” he said. “White nationalism and racism have always been there, but now they’ve moved way up into the forefront of our consciousness.”
As is the case with Dill, Glick has strove to highlight LGBTQ-inclusive narratives throughout his career. In 2017, he starred in Broadway’s “Significant Other,” playing a neurotic gay millennial going to hilariously extreme lengths to find a boyfriend who will ultimately become a husband.
Though “Significant Other” had been a hit in its earlier off-Broadway incarnation, the dramedy struggled to find an audience on Broadway and closed after just 79 performances. Since then, it’s gone on to become a favorite on the regional theater circuit.
“I was really driven to that show because it spoke to me,” Glick recalled. “So it feels rewarding that it still speaks to other people. The more it lives, the more I feel affirmed in my own love for it.”
The success of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” meanwhile, corresponds with another milestone in the actor’s life, as he and his longtime beau, Perry Dubin, got engaged last year. The couple has yet to set a wedding date, but the two recently purchased their first apartment.
And while Glick will remain with the “To Kill a Mockingbird” company through at least November, he’s certain the show’s themes will continue to impact him as he begins work on two, as-yet-unspecified projects in the next phase of his career: directing.
“Thought-provoking stories about social change and justice — that’s what I’m drawn to,” he said. “It’s the doing of the job that helps me evolve.”