I was late getting to “A Time to Kill” and I arrived in my seat as it was posting its closing notice for November 17. The courtroom drama based on John Grisham’s novel of 25 years ago, which was turned into a film, was adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes. The cast is stellar, Ethan McSweeney’s direction is adequate, James Noone’s set design and Jeff Croiter’s lighting are appropriate, so why is this well-meaning play such a dated bore? Admittedly, the first act was tedious; the second act much better.
It is easy to write a review about something wonderful or something terrible; more difficult to analyze the in between. The story here is a simple one. Two horrendous men, both white and high on drugs, Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard, have raped and beaten a ten year old black girl. Played realistically by Lee Sellars and Dashiell Eaves, just looking at them produces hate and vengeful thoughts.
They are brought to the courtroom of Judge Omar Noose, depicted by Fred Dalton Thompson, best known as Senator from Tennessee and a long turn on “Law and Order.” There, distraught father of the girl, Carl Lee Hailey, promises Defense Attorney Jake Brigance, that he will kill them. Sebastian Arcelus is fine as the young starry-eyed lawyer –he really resembles Matthew McConaughey, who played the role in the film-- and John Douglas Thompson does his job as the vengeful dad, although not as strongly as he could have. We can hear the shot go off and we know that Carl has done the job, but except for the dramatic music and fiery projections on the wooden slatted walls, we do not see the men die. In this day and age, participation is everything.
Jake agrees to defend Carl and is assisted by Lucien Wilbanks, his retired mentor, the popular Tom Skerritt, who we were happy to see. Also joining the case was a law student Ellen Roark. Pretty Ashley Williams, who over-acted. Patrick Page is smoothly perfect as the politically aggressive Rufus R. Buckley, district attorney for Polk County and Tonya Pinkins lends warmth and character as Gwen, Carl’s wife. John Procaccino does a good turn as Dr. T.W. Bass.
Unfortunately, the story is predictable; it is a one-note plot without much twist or turn. “A Time to Kil”l would have made it in a theater with a built in membership, but on Broadway, standing alone is tough.