To Sorkin A Mockingbird: Screenwriter Will Adapt Novel For Broadway

Feb 12, 2016
Originally published on February 17, 2016 3:25 pm

Editor's note: Sure, you could read a story about speech patterns and dialogue, but where's the fun in that? We strongly recommend you click the Listen link above to get the full effect.

Theatergoers and book lovers learned earlier this week that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin will be adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for a Broadway production. So what will this beloved American classic sound like in "Sorkin speak"?

Sorkin has this very specific way of writing — quick-witted, smart, caustic, eloquent — and repetitive.

Sorkin's style is so distinctive it has spawned YouTube mashups called "Sorkinisms." He likes to keep his kinetic dialogue and frenetic characters moving — as in his famous "walk and talk" scenes through the corridors of the White House in The West Wing.

By contrast, there is a stillness in To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the fates of men are decided in quiet conversations, where the most important things are left unsaid. The centerpiece of To Kill a Mockingbird is the trial. In the movie, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch makes a powerful but understated argument on behalf of Tom Robinson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman.

Sorkin can write a pretty good courtroom drama — think Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men -- though the tone is decidedly different. (Note: There's some strong language in the clip below.)

But you actually can hear Sorkin's sensibility between the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird because, under Sorkin's caustic exterior, lies the heart of an idealist. After all, he did put these words into the mouth of his cynical anchor in HBO's The Newsroom:

"We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged war on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest."

Granted, he was talking about America in the past, but still ... it sounds a little like Atticus, doesn't it?

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

What would the classic book "To Kill A Mockingbird" sound like in Sorkin speak - as in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin? That's what NPR's Lynn Neary and a lot of other people have been wondering since hearing that Sorkin is going to adapt the book for Broadway.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Some fans of "To Kill A Mockingbird" may have reacted to the news that Aaron Sorkin is adapting the story for the stage by borrowing a phrase that Sorkin has used in his work time and time again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) This isn't happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) This isn't happening.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (As character) This isn't happening.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (As character) This isn't happening.

NEARY: You see, Sorkin has this very specific way of writing - quick-witted, smart, caustic, eloquent. Oh, and did we mention repetitive?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (As character) I have a journalism degree from Northwestern.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As character) I have an MD from Harvard.

UNIDENTIFEID MAN #4: (As character) I'm a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (As character) I was president of Cambridge Union on a Marshall Scholarship.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (As character) And I am never, ever sick at sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (As character) And I'm never, ever sick at sea.

NEARY: Sorkin's style is so distinctive it has spawned YouTube mashups called Sorkinisms. His dialogue is kinetic, his characters, at times, frenetic. He likes to keep them moving, as in his famous walk-and-talk scenes, like this one through the corridors of the White House in the TV series "The West Wing."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WEST WING")

ROB LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) C.J.

ALLISON JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Oh, holy interruptus, Batman.

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) Grant Samuels died.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Really?

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) Yes.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) He's really dead this time?

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) Yeah.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Because last time you told me he was dead, he wasn't.

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) He's dead this time.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Somebody poked him a little to see if...

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) He died, C.J.

JANNEY: (As C.J. Cregg) Well, OK, then I shouldn't have made a joke.

NEARY: By contrast, there is a stillness in "To Kill A Mockingbird." The fates of men are decided in quiet conversations on the front porch, where the most important things are left unsaid.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

PAUL FIX: (As Judge Taylor) Atticus, you heard about Tom Robinson?

GREGORY PECK: (As Atticus Finch) Yes, sir.

FIX: (As Judge Taylor) Grand jury will get around to charging him tomorrow. I was thinking about appointing you to take his case.

NEARY: The centerpiece of "To Kill A Mockingbird" is the trial. In the movie, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch makes a powerful but understated argument on behalf of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

PECK: (As Atticus Finch) Now, I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.

NEARY: No, Aaron Sorkin can write a pretty good courtroom drama - think Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men." Of course, the tone is decidedly different.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A FEW GOOD MEN")

JACK NICHOLSON: (As Nathan R. Jessup) You want answers?

TOM CRUISE: (As Daniel Kaffee) I think I'm entitled to them.

NICHOLSON: (As Nathan R. Jessup) You want answers?

CRUISE: (As Daniel Kaffee) I want the truth.

NICHOLSON: (As Nathan R. Jessup) You can't handle the truth.

NEARY: But you actually can hear Aaron Sorkin's sensibility between the lines of "To Kill A Mockingbird" because under Sorkin's caustic exterior lies the heart of an idealist. After all, he did put these words into the mouth of his cynical anchor on the HBO series "The Newsroom."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE NEWSROOM")

JEFF DANIELS: (As Will McAvoy) We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.

NEARY: Granted, he was talking about America in the past. But still, it sounds a little like Atticus, doesn't it? Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.