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A CurtainUp Review
Time to Kill
A Time to Kill makes the most of the built-in element of conflict in courtroom dramas as well as racial tension, the Ku Klux Klan, the struggle for equality and fear. Archival videos (designed by Jeff Sugg) as well as commentary by a tv news reporter (played by Washington tv reporter JC Hayward) give a good sense of the environment in Mississippi, even after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. James Noone's dark wood set, on a revolve, adds to the tense ambience of a courtroom and the young defense attorney's home.
In court, good guys and bad guys do their lawyerly tricks and confront one another while a judge plays referee. In this case, the dry-humored judge (played brilliantly by Evan Thompson) tries to be fair, although his disdain for the prosecutor is not well hidden. It's a memorable vignette.
The plot involves the rape and killing (offstage, mercifully) of a ten-year old girl by two low-life rednecks. The girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey, is an empathetic study in paternal love, loss and a yearning for justice in a system that does not forgive vigilantes. The part is played with enormous sensitivity by Dion Graham, who some will recognize from the tv series, The Wire. As his attorney, Jake Brigance, a star turn by Sebastian Arcelus, is a roller-coaster of emotion. He has the upper hand one moment and loses it the next, both in court and in his personal life.
Two performances, because they are annoying, slow Ethan McSweeney's otherwise well-paced direction. As Ellen Roark, the very ambitious law student trying to be a tough lawyer/femme fatale, Rosie Benton is over the top and unbelievable. Brennan Brown, as Rufus Buckley, the oleaginous District Attorney hoping for a political future, preens and mugs to excess.
"Show""is a good word to describe this stage version of A Time to Kill, because it is highly entertaining. Some of the dialogue is banal and most of the narrative seems formulaic, but it should do well in regional theaters and there's talk of producer Daryl Roth's taking it to New York.