Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review - A Time to Kill

While I was still in California, I received an e-mail from a Tony voter friend, asking me if I'd like to join him at yesterday's matinee of A Time to Kill.  Since the show is closing this weekend, I put all thoughts of jet lag aside and took him up on his kind offer.  Here's what I thought...

I've read the novel and I saw the movie A Time to Kill.  I enjoyed them both well enough, and I suppose I had a reasonably good time at the play.  I just don't know why they made it into a play.  There was nothing really theatrical or anything new about this production that made it clear to me why they adapted it.  Other than to have a recognizable title for a Broadway play.  Is it cynical of me to suggest that's the only reason this production came to be?

The show is directed with a light touch, probably to not seem overly sentimental - it's presented at a brisk pace, but there isn't much suspense.  The script has been so stacked in the defendant's favor, I began wishing for the end a lot sooner than I should've.  There's no real moral or philosophical complexity, it's just plot and resolution.  The physical production was slick and polished, but I wasn't really fond of the turntable set - I thought it was either laughably on the nose "the wheels of justice turning," or laughably on the nose referring to the song "Turn Turn Turn." Either way, the constant turning of the set became annoying to me and it made the already-approaching-too-long play even longer.  It also just played up the fact that they were just trying to make this play as close to a film as they could.  So, again, why was it a play?

The cast is filled with familiar names and they all do a good job with very sketchily written characters.  I guess to get a really large book to a manageable size, things needed to be cut.  Characters are cut and subplots aren't mentioned, but character development should've really stayed behind.  Not so much.  Every character is as they ever were throughout the play.  No one grows, no one changes, no one needs to dig deep for anything.  So that made for a rather shallow and bloodless, though attractively presented, afternoon. 

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
You probably already know the plot, but there will be some spoilers here - at the top of the show, we see an ominous video and hear a young girl calling for her daddy.  Then we're in the courtroom where most of the play takes place.  Sebastian Arcelus is Jake Brigance, the young white hometown lawyer, and John Douglas Thompson is Carl Lee Hailey, the father of the young black girl who was recently raped.  As events unfold, Brigance becomes Hailey's defense attorney.  Arcelus looks a little bit like Matthew McConaughey did in the film, but he doesn't really have that charisma.  He's appealing, but you never feel really swayed by him, and I would think that's an important quality, since the audience becomes the jury in the second act.  I mean, the deck has already been really stacked in the defense's favor, but a little heightened feeling from Arcelus might've pushed the envelope more.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
John Douglas Thompson is wonderful as Carl Lee, if underused, especially in the second act.  He has great dignity and feeling, but at the same time, his character rather strained credulity in his naivete about how race relations work in a Mississippi courtroom.  Speaking of underused, Tonya Pinkins is her usual terrific self as Carl Lee's wife.  She's only in two brief scenes, but she's great.  I just wish she had been given more to do.  Patrick Page is also predictably glorious as the vain and ambitious prosecutor.  He really knows how to play an audience, and he's also appropriately rattled when his tactics are brought into the open.  I was also very impressed with Tom Skerritt, who I've loved for years.  He had his own rhythm and pace in his scenes, and he brought a certain rascally charm to an otherwise rather charmless rest of the afternoon.

I found it odd that the play doubled up a couple of the actors - there are fourteen actors playing seventeen characters.  Why not go with seventeen actors?  I mean, I guess I can understand why the actors playing the redneck rapists in the first scene would want more to do, but it was jarring to me to see them turn up as a lawyer and a doctor later on.  One other actor doubled up, but he didn't bother me as much.  I don't know why it bothered me, but it did.  Oh well. 

Since I liked the book and movie well enough, and I responded pretty favorably to this cast, I was reasonably engaged throughout the afternoon.  I just think they could've done so much more.  I'm actually a little surprised the play didn't do more business - it seems a good title that would appeal to tourists, and it seems a nice alternative to the heavier pieces that are playing right now.  The crowd who was at the matinee was engaged and jumped to their feet at the end, but I guess if you can cheaply rent the movie, why pay hundreds of dollars to see a reasonable facsimile onstage?  Maybe if they had made this adaptation a true piece of theater instead of basically the movie onstage, they would've been able to better position themselves.  I don't know.  It's disappointing, though - a crackerjack courtroom thriller onstage with this talented cast could (and should) be a lot of fun.  This was just reasonably pleasant.  Not the best of endorsements, unfortunately...

No comments:

Post a Comment