Monday, October 21, 2013

Choreography of the Courtroom: A Time To Kill on Broadway

"God had a son, he didn't have a daughter." This is Carl Lee Hailey's (John Douglas Thompson) defense for killing the two men who raped his young daughter in A Time To Kill at the Golden Theatre on Broadway. In an age of overproduced theatrical spectacles, it's refreshing when the story is the star. Based on the novel by John Grisham, Rupert Holmes' adaptation fits the stage perfectly. He uses just enough legal jargon to build excitement and set the scene without losing the common man. Director Ethan McSweeny's decision to put the audience in the jury box is simple, yet effective. It is the perfect way to engage the audience. After all, the courtroom is just a theatre with actors, isn't it? At least you'll feel that way when Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus) and Rufus R. Buckley (Patrick Page) make their opening remarks.

Sebastian Arcelus is incredibly engaging as the golden boy defense attorney with a heart of gold. You'll want to root for him...even if you hate Ole Miss. He has that casual, boy next door look about him, which perfectly juxtaposes the seriousness of the murder trial that he is defending. Arcelus has a quiet swagger about him and he's just so endearing; I'd even call him a modern day Atticus Finch. All those khaki suits against Buckley's black and navy, though it's just a little too obvious that he is supposed to be "the good guy". Speaking of Patrick Page, his Rufus R. Buckley is just as pompous as every big time prosecutor that you love to hate, and though he's actually from the Pacific Northwest, his Mississippi accent is spot on. Ashley Williams' Ellen Roark, the sassy law student, threw me for a loop. She's a combination of Vivienne Kensington and Elle Woods, but her sharp sense of humor provides a much needed lightness to the otherwise incredibly tense plot.

It's been a while since I've seen a production so simple, yet lacking nothing. The rich wooden set creates the perfect courtroom, while the video projections display just enough of the racial tension to create a mood and establish a context. The most memorable production element is a burning cross, which really forces you to think about the time period. It's unbelievable to think that as recently as the 1980s, racial tension was still so pronounced in the deep south, but then again, has it ever really gone away?

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