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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A TIME TO KILL
at the Golden

PLEADING INSANITY
By MATT WINDMAN

  Ph: Carol Rosegg

A Time to Kill – based on the 1989 John Grisham novel that was then adapted into the popular 1996 film with Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson – delivers exactly what you’d expect: a pulp and plot-heavy thriller full of racy subject matter, melodramatic reversals, legal strategy and plainly one-dimensional characters, not unlike the old-fashioned courtroom dramas that were once a mainstay of the Broadway stage.

This apparently marks the first time that any Grisham work has been done onstage. The production is even timely, given that Sycamore Row, Grisham’s newest book, is a sequel to A Time to Kill.

Set in 1980s Mississippi, it begins with Carl Lee Hailey, an African-American, unapologetically killing the two white men who brutally raped his 10-year-old daughter in open court, turning what was to be a trial of the rapists into his own trial for their murder. Jake Brigance, a young criminal attorney, is tasked with defending Hailey against the county’s pompous district attorney, arguing that Hailey was insane at the time of the murder.

Playwright Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) offers an uninspired but admittedly effective adaptation that streamlines and condenses the text to fit the confines of the stage, with most of the action now set in either the courtroom or Brigance’s law office. While director Ethan McSweeney’s use of a revolving stage, which allows the audience to view the courtroom setting from multiple perspectives, can be quite elegant, the overreliance on ominous sound effects borders the ridiculous, and the sudden appearance of a fiery burning cross towards the end is a bit much.

Sebastian Arcelus’ sincere performance as Brigance might not be all that interesting, but he at least pushes the plot forward and brings attention to the rest of the fine ensemble cast, including John Douglas Thompson as Hailey, Tonya Pinkins as Hailey’s wife, Ashley Williams as an eager law clerk with sex appeal, Tom Skerritt as an inebriated, older attorney, Patrick Page as the politically motivated district attorney and Fred Dalton Thompson as the somewhat aloof judge. The cast conveys a solid sense of urgency that helps make this courtroom drama into the cheesy but crowd-pleasing vehicle it was intended to be.

If Thompson’s acting is nowhere near as deep as his work in Othello at Theatre for a New Audience and The Emperor Jones at The Irish Rep, at least he is getting a well-deserved shot at success on Broadway. The deep­-voiced Page, who admirably endured Spider-Man for nearly two years, is apparently comfortable with being type cast as a villain, be it Scar, the Green Goblin or a disdainful lawyer. Pinkins, with little stage time, unfortunately gets lost in the mix.  

 


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