Theater review: 'A Time to Kill,' 2 1/2 stars
"A Time to Kill," based on the 1989 John Grisham novel that was then adapted into the popular 1996 film, delivers exactly what you'd expect: a pulp and plot-heavy, old-fashioned courtroom drama full of racy subject matter, legal strategy and plainly one-dimensional characters.
This apparently marks the first time that any Grisham work has been done onstage. The production is even timely, given that "Sycamore Row," Grisham's newest book, is a sequel to "A Time to Kill."
Set in 1980s Mississippi, it begins with Carl Lee Hailey, an African-American, unapologetically killing in open court the two white men who brutally raped his 10-year-old daughter, turning what was to be the rapists' trial into Hailey's own trial for murder. Jake Brigance, a young attorney tasked with defending Hailey against the county's pompous district attorney, argues that his client was temporarily insane.
Playwright Rupert Holmes and director Ethan McSweeny have faithfully adapted the text for the stage. While McSweeney's use of a revolving stage, which allows the audience to view the courtroom setting from multiple perspectives, is quite effective, the overreliance on ominous sound effects is embarrassingly ridiculous.
Sebastian Arcelus' performance as Brigance is less than interesting, but at least he pushes the plot forward and allows us to focus on the rest of the impressive ensemble cast, which includes John Douglas Thompson as Hailey, Tonya Pinkins as Hailey's wife, Ashley Williams as a smart law student with sex appeal, Tom Skerritt as an inebriated, older attorney, Patrick Page as the district attorney, and Fred Dalton Thompson as the judge.
While practically none of the performances are deep or nuanced, the cast conveys a sense of urgency that helps make this courtroom drama into the cheesy but crowd-pleasing vehicle that it was intended to be.
"A Time to Kill" plays an open run at the John Golden Theatre. 252 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, telecharge.com.