Playwright Melita Easters explores the life of Harper Lee

524

Courtesy of Melita Easters

In the early 1990s, local playwright Melita Easters wrote “Mrs. John Marsh,” a one-woman show about author Margaret Mitchell, after encountering Gone With the Wind fans during her travels outside the United States. “In Europe and Japan, whenever people found out I was from Atlanta, they always asked about three things: Coca-Cola, Bobby Jones, and Gone With the Wind,” she says. “I began researching Mitchell, and was fascinated by the story of how she came to write the book.”

Twenty-five years later, Easters penned another one-woman show about yet another iconic Southern author—Harper Lee. Titled “Nelle’s Story: The World of Harper Lee,” the show debuted in 2012, and is being mounted again this month at Synchronicity Theatre, timed to coincide with the hotly-anticipated release of Go Set a Watchman, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. We recently spoke with Easters in advance of the production’s July 9 premiere:

Playwright Melita Easters

Courtesy of Melita Easters

On comparisons between Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee…
There are so many similarities between them. Both had immediate bestseller success with their first books, which came to define them. Both of their books were adapted into wonderfully successful and beautiful films. Both of their fathers were lawyers, and they also had older siblings who were lawyers, who managed their business affairs. Both liked gospel music. Both shunned publicity and the celebrity of being a bestselling author.

On the enduring appeal of Mockingbird
“Nelle’s Story” is so relevant, because Lee’s message of tolerance is still so relevant. Our headlines about race relations and racism haven’t changed that much since it was published; the fabric of our country is so intertwined with attitudes of the past. I’m looking forward to seeing how characters of Scout and Atticus carry the message of Mockingbird forward when Watchman comes out.

On her research process…
When I was working on the Mitchell play, I read everything I could get my hands on about her. One of the things I really tried to get was a copy of the lecture that she gave at West Point in 1965, two years after Faulkner. I have photos of her with cadets at West Point. I have talked to people who were at the lecture, people who were on the English faculty. I had researchers search papers at West Point. We never were able to recover it, but could I reconstruct the kinds of things she said. I’m currently going through a similar process for a play that I’m developing about Robert Woodruff.

On the new production of “Nelle’s Story”…
It’s a great pleasure to be working with [director] Carolyn Cook and [actress] Mandi Lee. Carolyn played Margaret Mitchell when “Mrs. John Marsh” was first produced years ago, and then Mandi played Mitchell three summers ago at the Ansley Park Playhouse. To have them working together is a really lovely circle of creativity. They’re so talented, and it’s an interesting thing for me to pass it off to Carolyn and allow her to take it in a new direction creatively. It’s going to be fun to see what they do onstage.

Update: “Nelle’s Story” has been extended at the Synchronicity Theatre through August 9. Get tickets at synchrotheatre.com

Advertisement