A Houma courtroom will set the stage for live performances of “To Kill a Mockingbird” this month.

Beginning Sunday, the Lorna N Company is presenting Harper Lee’s timeless tale about a sage attorney defending a black man accused of raping a young white woman.

Director Dane Rhodes, an accomplished film and television actor and director, said staging the play at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse will inject a sense of realism into the show. The real-life courtroom setting will also transport audiences to 1935 Maycomb, Alabama, Rhodes said.

“We want these people who walk up the courthouse steps to come inside to get so immersed in what we’re doing that they forget they are in Houma and that they are seeing a play,” Rhodes said. “The way we do that is being as honest all the time as we can be. There’s a reverence and a deference that happens when you walk into a place like that. There’s a power or a gravitas. In a regular theater we would have to create that.”

Producer Lorna Farrar said she became inspired to stage “Mockingbird” in Houma after seeing it performed on Broadway. Although she enjoyed the show, she felt something was missing.

“It was wonderful but lacked the warmth of Lee’s novel and of the film,” Farrar said. “When I left the theater I couldn’t explain what I was feeling. All I knew was that I needed to do it. I felt they had no real understanding of the South. I felt that was lacking.”

District Judge David Arceneaux’s courtroom provided an ideal setting for Lee’s 1960 classic, Farrar said.

“I love Judge Arceneaux’s courtroom,” she said. “It’s immense and just speaks so much about the power of the court. Securing the courtroom was tricky because it’s a working courtroom. You have to work around Judge Arceneaux’s schedule. It has to be when he’s not working. But he was so open to this being done and was so kind to work with. He made it easy.”

Because a courthouse is not the same as a playhouse, several steps had to be taken to bring Lee’s tale to life, Farrar said.

“Security can be very costly,” she said. “And you need insurance, which is also very expensive. But I still felt that it was important to do it inside a courtroom. When you walk in, it starts speaking to you. I told Dane what I wanted to do, and he works in the world of imagination. I knew he would have that kind of imagination to understand what needed to be done.”

The local rendition of the play doesn’t censor some of the racially charged language in Lee’s story, including use of the N-word, Farrar said.

“That’s the story that she told,” Farrar said. “This was a story she told about her father. She was trying to bring him to life in his kind ways. But she also saw the other side of Alabama, and she didn’t sugarcoat it.”

Seanathan Polidore plays Tom Robinson, the black man charged with raping a white woman in the 1930s rural South. The Franklin actor said he sees sobering parallels between Lee’s novel and the current cultural climate.

“I’m an African-American male,” he said. “We see it all the time today. It’s that age-old thing about African-American males being hypersexualized and aggressive. Back then if a white lady accused a black man, the black man was lynched. But these days there is social lynching. I can go on social media right now and see things just like Maycomb. Emmett Till was just like that. Trayvon Martin was just like that. We can go on and on. The whole time I’m playing Tom on that stage I’m mentally tapping into Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin or all these guys who are wrongfully imprisoned. You’ve got mass incarceration here. It’s the new Jim Crow.”

Lee’s novel and the 1962 film adaptation still resonate in 2019 because the themes are timeless, Polidore said.

“If I get pulled over on the way home, they don’t care that I have a master’s degree,” he said. “My skin makes me dangerous for them. It’s the presumption that I’m dangerous.”

As Houma’s City Court administrator, Doug Holloway is accustomed to working in a courtroom. But as Atticus Finch, he said it adds an entirely new dimension.

“You’re dealing with a story that’s well known by so many people,” Holloway said. “So it’s really been humbling for me having gotten this role. I know so many attorneys because I work at City Court. A number of them got into law because they wanted to be Atticus Finch. I know several attorneys and judges that are coming to see it. It’s going to have a tremendous impact. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m extremely nervous too.”

When he’s not teaching culinary arts at Nicholls, local chef Randy Cheramie said he likes to show off his acting chops. Cheramine, who portrays no-nonsense Sheriff Heck Tate, said the play is not afraid to show America’s dark past.

“It’s a great American story,” he said. “It doesn’t show our pretty side, but it’s very good at depicting the time that it was, and we’re finding out that some things are not all that different today. That’s why it’s a timeless novel, and this will be a timeless show.”

The play premieres 7:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Old Courthouse Building, 7856 Main St., Houma. Additional performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 and 2 p.m. Aug. 25. Tickets are $55 plus tax. For reservations, call Leslie Bland at 860-2940. Seating is limited.

--Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 446-7639 or at dan.copp@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.