Sunday, October 27, 2013

Broadway Theater Review: A Time to Kill

Fred Dalton Thompson, John Douglas Thompson, and Sebastian Arcelus. Photo: (c) Carol Rosegg
A Page-Turner Without the Pages
By Lauren Yarger
It's a John Grishma page turner, with all of the elements we expect: a horrible crime, an impossible case and intrigue in the courtroom. This A Time to Kill is on stage, however, not in the pages of a book, as Rupert Holmes excellent adaptation of the best-selling thriller comes to Broadway.

This version, directed by Ethan McSweeny, is every bit as as sharply written as the original -- a nail biter that has us engaged and eagerly anticipating the verdict every second of the two-and-a-half hour drama -- even if we already have read the book.

The drama takes place in early 1980s Mississippi where racial tensions are anything but relaxed. A 10-year-old girl has been raped by two white men. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey (John Douglas Thompson), decides to take justice in a highly white county into his own hands and kills the suspects while they are in jail awaiting trial.

Hailey asks white attorney, Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus), who get along well enough with Blacks around Ford County, including Sheriff Ozzie Walls (Chike Johnson), to take his case. Jake has a reputation for winning cases, especially against DA and nemesis Rufus R. Buckley (Patrick Page), who hopes publicity from the controversial trial will propel him to the governor's mansion.

Overwhelmed in his one-man practice, Jake turns to law mentor Lucien Wilbanks (Tom Skerritt), who takes a break form his inebriated existence in forced retirement on a Caribbean island to offer his assistance. Wilbanks produces fellow drunk, W. T. Bass (john Procaccino) to testify that Hailey's mind snapped upon learning the circumstances of his daughter's rape and that he can't be held accountable for his actions. When Buckley challenges Bass' credibility as an expert witness, Wilbanks starts hatching a plot to buy off the jury.

Also assisting Jake is hot-shot legal intern Ellen Roarke (Ashley Williams) who offers her cracker-jack research skills -- along with anything else Jake might be interested in while his wife and daughter are out of town to avoid threats against them by the Ku Klux Klan, which  isn't exactly happy about a white man defending Hailey.

Jake and his client stick with each other, however, despite urging from the rape victim's mother that her husband should allow the NAACP to take over his defense. Jake just lives in a different world, she argues.
Gwen (Tonya Pinkins) also isn't happy that Carl's actions have left her without his paycheck, alone to cope with their traumatized daughter while worrying about whether he will end up in the gas chamber.

The second act is all trial with the audience brilliantly positioned as jury.

McSweeny may have selected Arcelus more for his resemblance to Actor Matthew McConaughey, who starred in the 1988 movie, than for his ability to portray the affable, but go-for-the-jugular attorney. John Douglas Thompson is riveting in his portrayal of Hailey. We're never quite sure how much he lost -- or took -- control  over the situation. The ensemble here, is top notch.

Also turning in excellent performances are Pinkins, Page and Fred Dalton Thompson as Judge Omar Noose. A slip in dialogue was deftly handled by Thompson and Page the night I attended.

Grisham's legal thrillers have readers flipping pages from start to finish. Holme's really excellent stage adaptation creates the feeling for the live experience. My complaints: a rotating and expanding set (James Noone, design) and the use of projections (Jeff Sugg, design) and upbeat music (original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones), all of which are out of place and distract form the drama.

A Time to Kill runs at the Golden Theatre,252 W. 45th St., NYC.

Christians might also like to know:
-- The description of the rape is detailed and graphic.
-- Lord's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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