Performing Arts: A Time to Kill

“What is the true meaning of justice?” That is the question posed to audiences in A Time to Kill, the first stage adaption of a novel by John Grisham.

A scene in the courtroom from the production of A Time to Kill. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Arena Stage, which opened its doors last year with the critically acclaimed production of Oklahoma (which is returning for a three-month run from July 8 to October 2) has segwayed into more cerebral territory with the World-premiere stage adaptation of “A Time to Kill.” The play brings John Grisham’s bestselling courtroom drama to Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. It runs until June 19th.

“Producing a work that asks big questions about how we live in the world takes a dynamic team,” says Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. “Rupert Holmes and Ethan McSweeny are an ideal duo to take on this powerful courtroom drama. Daryl Roth, a committed and bold producer, brought this potential project to Arena over a year ago, and we have been thrilled to work together on the birth of this new play.”

“A Time to Kill” depicts a Mississippi town’s upheaval when Carl Lee Hailey takes the law into his own hands following an unspeakable crime committed against his daughter. Now on trial for murder, Carl Lee’s only hope lies with one young, idealistic lawyer Jake Brigance, who is outmatched by the formidable district attorney, Rufus Buckley, and under attack from both sides of a racially divided city.

Although one might expect the play to be heavy on the drama, especially since it wades into the painful waters of racism in the south. But production produces a number of lighter and humorous moments, particularly during the courtroom scenes. The result is an adaptation that balances Grishman’s detail oriented work with the theatre going experience and entertainment value.

It’s also a very approachable play. “A Time to Kill” has already been in wide release as a book and a 1996 movie, starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bul­lock and Kevin Spacey.

“I’m tremendously excited to be working with this cast and this director in this remarkable venue,”  Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes, who adapted the play for stage. “We all know John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller, but “A Time to Kill” was his first novel, his first literary child, a work of great passion and pungency. I hope this newly created play, a courtroom drama without boundaries, will intrigue, entertain and stimulate its world-premiere audience, causing them to consider what they would have done if they were the defendant—or his defenders—and how they would feel if they were his jury.”

Though written more than 20 years ago, the themes of justice and revenge expressed in “A Time to Kill” remain relevant in today’s world. Projections designed by Jeff Sugg and displayed on 1980s-type television sets reinforce the trial as a media sensation, and a turntable set designed by James Noone helps tell the story in and out of the courtroom.

Tickets are available here

A Time to Kill cast members Dion Graham and Sebastian Arcules. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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