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NY1 Theater Review: "A Time To Kill"

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John Grisham's courtroom drama "A Time To Kill" was first a best-selling novel, then a blockbuster movie, and now the work is "holding court" on Broadway. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

Producing a courtroom drama based on a popular book and movie has a built-in problem. A lot of people know how it ends. And so when robbed of a key element - namely suspense - the show loses its anticipated luster. That's pretty much the case with the stage adaptation of John Grisham's best selling "A Time To Kill". And while it’s not a fatal blow, the clichés and abridged storyline come close to finishing it off.

Set mostly in a Mississippi courtroom in the early 80’s it begins with the chilling cries of an unseen child amid projections of a wooded scene. It is a brutally violent rape of a 10-year-old black girl; and two white suspects are quickly caught. The victim’s distraught father, Carl Lee Hailey, brings a gun to the courthouse and shoots the two men dead. He then asks Jake Brigance, a smart young lawyer, to defend him.

Sounds like edge-of-the-seat drama except almost everything I described happens off-stage. In fact, most of the action, including an onslaught of attacks from the Ku Klux Klan, are merely talked about.

Rupert Holmes’ stage adaptation focuses almost exclusively on the courtroom events and he manages some nice touches of humor and elegant lawyer-speak. But the production fails to convey the entrenched racism and attendant emotions so intensely depicted in Grisham’s novel.

On the plus side the performances are quite good. Sebastian Arcelus looking remarkably like Matthew McConaughey from the film has a low-key charisma; Fred Dalton Thompson as the no-nonsense judge and Tom Skerritt as Jake’s drunken mentor, provide levity.

John Douglas Thompson captures a father’s agony with chilling honesty and Patrick Page as the shrewdly ambitious district attorney once again acquits himself with tremendous flair.

"A Time To Kill" seems to defy stage adaptation. Despite some fancy sets and decent direction you can't gut the story and expect the drama to live.

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