MONROEVILLE, Ala. — It’s highly unlikely that the Mockingbird Players will ever put on the stage version of “Go Set a Watchman.”
What would have been a blockbuster sequel published 55 years after Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is immersed in controversy over whether the 88-year-old author is being manipulated into releasing an unpublished, unpolished manuscript that evolved into 1960’s “Mockingbird.”
“We’re trying to be indifferent to it,” said Cynthia Martens, who is portraying Miss Dubose, the cranky elderly neighbor of Atticus Finch, in the stage version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” presented here every spring. “It’s not going to affect our production at all.”
“Go Set a Watchman,” to be released in July, is set in the 1950s when an adult Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout, visits her fictional home town of Maycomb.
Lee wrote “Watchman” in the late 1950s, but publishers at Lippincott, now a part of HarperCollins, kept asking for revisions.
The much-revised manuscripts eventually became “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The existence of “Watchman” was known in literary circles and here in Lee’s hometown where she now resides in a nursing home, reportedly in declining health.
But since Lee never published another book after “Mockingbird,” it remained unseen.
Then Tonja Carter — Lee’s attorney since sister Alice died last fall at 103 — announced that she had found the manuscript. And, Carter added, Harper Lee had agreed to its publication and ordered a first run of 2 million.
However, investigations, including an extensive one by the Washington Post, have cast doubt on both the quality of “Watchman” and whether Lee truly wants it published.
“I think you’ve got to follow the money,” said Stephanie Rogers, executive director of the Monroe County Historical Association, which both operates the courthouse museum primarily dedicated to Mockingbird and produced the local stage version.
“We have been in a litigious situation with Ms. Carter before (over using characters in the book for a cookbook) and part of the royalties from the play go to Ms. Lee. Otherwise we’re not involved.”