John Grisham’s A Time to Kill Is Broadway Ready

A Time to Kill has been captivating audiences for over 20 years.  The novel, which eventually became a best-seller, was first published in 1989.  In 1996, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey starred in the film version.  Adapted for the stage by Tony award-winning playwright Rupert Holmes, A Time to Kill explores the undercurrent of race in our justice system.  A 10-year-old black girl is savagely raped, beaten, almost lynched and left for dead.  The two perpetrators are shot and killed at the courthouse by the girl’s father, Carl Lee Hailey.  Hailey is arrested and charged with first degree murder sparking tensions that had bubbled underneath the surface of a Mississippi town and subsequently gained nationwide attention.   Hailey hires Jake Brigance, a white attorney, as his defense lawyer.  Receiving advice from his disbarred mentor and much needed assistance from a pushy Bostonian intern, Jake begins to build an insanity defense for Carl Lee, while receiving death threats from Ku Klux Klan.  In court he tangles with Rufus R. Buckley, a superstar district attorney on his way to the governor’s office.  And while explosions erupt in and out of the courtroom, Jake uses an impassioned plea to get the jury to acquit Carl Lee.

timetokillThe plot of A Time to Kill is well-known, it’s robust and meaty.   I liken Rupert Holmes’ A Time to Kill to a fillet – some parts are stripped away but there is still enough meat for the audience to sink its teeth in.  The actors of this production had some pretty large shoes to fill considering some of the biggest names in Hollywood performed these characters on screen; the comparisons to the actors of the film are inevitable.  Led by Sebastian Arcelus, who plays Jake Brigance, each member of this cast turn in a fair performance.  Veterans Tom Skerritt and Fred Dalton Thompson offer great portrayals of Lucien Wilbanks and Judge Omar Noose.  Skerritt was as charming as ever as Lucien and Thompson’s feisty Judge Noose was a pleasure to watch, however it’s still the relationship between Jake Brigance and Carl Lee Hailey that drives this story.  Sebastian Arcelus and John Douglas Thompson showed promise as Jake and Carl Lee.

A Time to Kill received negative reviews when it played in D.C. in 2011, but the creative team appears to have worked out some of the kinks and the Broadway version is more solid.  Whether you have read the novel or saw the movie, this adaptation of A Time to Kill ultimately provides its audience with a thought-provoking experience and is a good addition to the legacy of one of John Grisham’s most recognized stories.

Seminar – A Gold Star Production at the Golden Theatre

Words…Words…Words, the foundation plays are built on.  Playwrights use them to create characters, discourse and plots that become microcosms for life.  Actors absorb words and give them a voice, emotion and the breath of life.  Words are the foundation of the Broadway community, and no words have been as deliciously scripted as those coming to life eight times a week at the Golden Theatre – Seminar is a seductive, sagacious comedy that is at the head of Broadway’s fall 2011 class.

Kate, Martin, Douglas and Izzy are four aspiring writers that gather together in Kate’s rent stabilized palace for a workshop with Leonard, a world-renowned literary genius who happens to be a venom-spewing, unconscionable scapegrace.  Each session with Leonard has the potential to end disastrously, but throughout the course of Leonard’s brutal verbal boot camp, the foursome learns about their art, each other and about Leonard.  If I had to sum up this production with a grade, I would be compelled to give an A with as many pluses as I could fit on the page.

How ingenious for a playwright to pen a play about four fledging writers taking a writing seminar with the hopes of elevating their style and becoming the next darlings of the literary world; only to be orally gunned down like the McLaury brothers at the O.K. Corral by the very person they admire and seek to impress.  Every writer, including myself, has a story like that, which is why Seminar is a play that will be close to the soul of every writer who views it.  But this production is not just for writers, it is for anyone in any creative field.  Seminar is sophisticated; there is no doubt about it.  Although, Rebeck’s luscious script may require some audience members to bring a thesaurus with them when attending a performance, the word play is a critical component to its allure.   Her attention to detail and phrasing creates a world of its own – a linguistic oasis that I thoroughly enjoyed basking in.  

In fact, every detail of this play is sublime.  The foundation Theresa Rebeck supplies is impeccable.  David Zinn’s costume and set designs are descriptive and complimentary to the characters.   The direction of Obie Award winner Sam Gold provides the subtle nuances the really allows the actors to shine in their characters.  This may be his Broadway debut, but this veteran needed no introduction to the Great White Way, this will be the first of many Broadway shows that will benefit from his skill.  Additional members of this production who are making their Broadway debuts are television and film star Jerry O’Connell, Hettienne Park and Hamish Linklater.  O’Connell’s portrayl of the name dropping, pseudo intellectual Douglas is extremely entertaining.  From the first blistering monologue, he proves he deserves to be on the stage and should be welcomed into the theater community with open arms.   Hettienne Park is excellent as Izzy.  She makes using sex as a means to achieving success extremely comical.  Hamish Linklater is totally convincing as Martin, the tragic genius.  O’Connell, Park and Linklater did not make a Broadway debut, they made a Broadway coup!  Lily Rabe puts the feminine in feminist/poor little rich girl Kate.  She is always a pleasure to watch.

Perhaps the greatest detail of the show is the return of Alan Rickman to Broadway.  Whether he is Hans Gruber, the Metatron or the Sheriff of Nottingham, Rickman is nothing less than stupendous.  No one can play a frosty, cheeky snob like he does.  Watching Rickman exhibit his talent live is worth the price of admission and is a memory that is priceless.   There is so much right with this show I doubt anyone could find a reason not to pass this play with flying colors.  Words have never been wittier. 




Photos:   Jeremy Daniel