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Deafness and Dominance: Analyzing The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Production of To Kill a Mockingbird


When determining who occupies dramatic spaces, theatre practitioners face a number of logistical decisions with performance consequences. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s decision to cast noted Deaf actor Howie Seago as Bob Ewell becomes central to the meaning-making of their production of To Kill a Mockingbird (2011). The character’s hearing status opens up an interval within the play: Seago, as Bob Ewell, uses both gestural and verbal languages to advance his character’s racial entitlement. This Bob Ewell primarily uses home sign to communicate, a choice appropriate given the character’s likely disenfranchisement from American Sign Language due to his class position, geography, time, and culture. When Seago does choose to have his character speak, half of his vocalized lines contain racial epithets, thereby underscoring his character’s racism.

Within the courtroom, Ewell’s linguistic abilities become part of his legal maneuverings. Susannah Flood, as Mayella, interprets testimony in real time, a choice with a significant performance affect: audience members are given the opportunity to decode the “truth” of her character’s testimony as they watch her exchanges with her father. Flood’s interpreting stages her character’s exploitation by Bob Ewell – and her rebellion as the trial continues. This specific iteration of the Ewells offer productive ways to consider the damning and restorative power of language and community. The linguistic choices within this production stage particular understanding of how Lee’s characters define, implement, and are subject to justice.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.