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Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Arena Stage A Time To Kill

By • May 26th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
A Time To Kill
Arena Stage
Mead Center, Washington DC
Through June 19th
2:30 with one intermission
$55 and up (+ Fees)
Reviewed May 24th, 2011

A Time To Kill was John Grisham’s first novel, published in 1989. When ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is savagely raped and beaten by two white men, her father, Carl Lee Hailey, takes justice into his own hands and kills the two men. It is then up to Jake Brigance, a young southern white attorney to prove Carl Lee Hailey not guilty. Playwright Rupert Holesm adapted the novel for the stage.

One would think A Time To Kill was a serious gut-wrenching drama that delves deep into the South, black culture, racism, the Klan, and hate. And it was. But add in witty repartee with great delivery, and you have humor amidst the tragedy of a devastating situation.

Jake Brigance played by Sebastian Arcelus did a masterful interpretation of Jake Brigance the lawyer hired by Carl Lee for a mere $5,000. Wiry and young, Arcelulus did become more mature by the end of the play. When the phone calls led to death threats and then the burning crosses became bomb scares, Jake began to realize he was playing with some serious fire (pun intended). He maintained a macho image as long as possible, even resisting the help of law clerk/possible love interest Ellen Roark played by Rosie Benton. Benton used what she had which was her sex appeal to win over Jake, and the other men she met. Benton was calm and cool except when she wanted to be hot and then look out! Her character may not have always known how to grow and was not always sure what to do with her character.

When Roark could not convince Jake to take her on she did not give up, but kept up her persistence and goes next to Lucien Wilbanks the disbarred alcoholic who “assists Jake on occasion.” Played by John C. Vennema, he has some witty thoughts on life, love, and whiskey. When sober however his keen mind was a help to Jake (although not always warranted.)

Some of the best humor came in the courtroom. Judge Noose (Evan Thompson) was cranky throughout, not willing to put up with any nonsense. When he puts a lawyer in their place, the audience would respond with giggles (who hasn’t wanted to tell a lawyer to speed things up?). Prosecuting attorney Rufus Buckley (Brennan Brown) was suave, very much a used car salesman. Brown was effective at working his audience, be it father of the rape victim Carl Lee Hailey, or mother of the murder victim Cora Cobb. He worked hard on his conviction of Hailey and was not afraid to raise his voice or even try to use the Bible to prove his point. Brown was passionate in his character and was a good match for Jake as the two sparred and cross-examined witnesses.

The focal point of the story was Carl Lee Hailey, the father of the girl raped and tortured by the two white men, was played by Dion Graham. Although he was the play’s focus, Graham’s character was subdued throughout the play. In reality he was a minor character as the action revolved on Jake, Roark and Wilbanks’ efforts to free Carl Lee.

The set for A Time to Kill was truly creative. Built on a huge turntable, the action was centered primarily in the courtroom, but could then be rotated to show different locations, Jake’s house, a jail room, Jake’s office. All the rotations and scene changes were fluid and quickly accomplished. Along the outer walls of the set were a series of doors, shelves and television sets. The televisions were used to give news reports on events happening off-stage. WUSA news anchor JC Hayward played the reporter on these pre-recorded sequences. It’s a shame that there aren’t enough actors in the DC region to give an actor a shot at playing the role of a reporter.

Costumer Designer Karen Perry was able to grasp the season and Southern culture well. The tan shoes and white coats were well suited to the production. Even Wilbanks’ outlandish Hawaiian shorts upon his first entrance was such a stark contrast to life in the South that it worked for the lovable alcoholic. York Kennedy’s lights emphasized the action perfectly, with Tiffany lamps, ceiling fans, and harsh fluorescent lamps accenting the scenes.

You do not have to have read the novel (or see the 1996 movie) to enjoy this show. There are several notable differences from the novel, and several characters are not present at all. The addition of a television camera to be able to broadcast the trial’s proceedings to the crowd gathering outside the courthouse is ridiculous, especially for the mid-1980s.

A Time To Kill is a well-performed drama with enough humor to keep you laughing as you watched the heartache and tragedy unfold before you. Be aware there are gunshots, and a scene involving the Ku Klux Klan.

Photo Gallery

Dion Graham as Carl Lee Hailey and Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Erin Davie as Carla Jane Brigance
Dion Graham as Carl Lee Hailey and Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance
Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Erin Davie as Carla Jane Brigance
John C. Vennema as Lucien Wilbanks and Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Rosie Benton as Ellen Roark
John C. Vennema as Lucien Wilbanks and Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance
Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Rosie Benton as Ellen Roark
Rosie Benton as Ellen Roark Brennan Brown as Rufus Buckley, Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose and Dion Graham as Carl Lee Hailey
Rosie Benton as Ellen Roark
Brennan Brown as Rufus Buckley, Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose and Dion Graham as Carl Lee Hailey
Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance, Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose, Hugh Nees as Mr. Pate, Brennan Brown as Rufus Buckley and Chike Johnson as Sheriff Ozzie Walls Trena Bolden Fields as Norma, Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose
Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance, Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose, Hugh Nees as Mr. Pate, Brennan Brown as Rufus Buckley and Chike Johnson as Sheriff Ozzie Walls
Trena Bolden Fields as Norma, Sebastian Arcelus as Jake Brigance and Evan Thompson as Judge Omar Noose

Photos by Joan Marcus

Cast

  • Vernon Pate, Courtroom deputy: Hugh Ness
  • Jake Brigance, attorney: Sebastian Arcelus
  • Ozzie Walls, sheriff of Ford County: Chike Johnson
  • Judge Omar Noose, circuit court judge for Ford County: Evan Thompson
  • Norma, a court reporter: Trena Bolden Fields
  • Deputy:Michael Marcan
  • Drew Tyndale, a public defender: Deborah Hazlett
  • Carl Lee Hailey: Dion Graham
  • Rufus Buckley, D.A. of Polk County: Brennan Brown
  • Pete Willard: Joe Isenberg
  • Billy Ray Cobb: Jeffrey M. Bender
  • Felecia Albright, a reporter: JC Howard
  • Carla Jane Brigance: Erin Davie
  • Lucien Wilbanks: John C. Vennema
  • Ellen Roark: Rosie Benton
  • Stump Sisson, Imperial Wizard for Mississippi, KKK: Jonathan Lincoln Fried
  • Cameraman: Michael Marcan
  • D.R. Musgrove, co-counsel to the district attorney: Joe Isenberg
  • Cora Cobb: Deborah Hazlett
  • Dr. W.T. Bass: Jonathan Lincoln Fried
  • Terrell Grist, a redneck: Jeffrey M. Bender
  • Dr. Rodeheaver: Jeffrey M. Bender
  • Tonya Hailey: Nisa Shelton

Crew

  • Playwright: Rupert Holmes
  • Original Author: Joh Grisham
  • Director: Ethan McSweeny
  • Set Designer: James Noone
  • Costume Designer: Karen Perry
  • Lighting Designer: York Kennedy
  • Composer, Sound Designer: Lindsay Jones
  • Video Designer: Jeff Sugg
  • Fight Choreographer: David Leong
  • Dialect Consultant: Lynn Watson
  • Wig Designer: Anne Nesmith
  • Assoc. Director: Sarah Rasmussen
  • Assoc. Sound Designer: Will Pickens
  • Asst. Video Designer: DJ Mendel
  • Fight Captain: Joe Isenberg
  • Casting Director: Daniel Pruksarnukul
  • N.Y. Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
  • Stage Manager: Susan R. White
  • Asst. Stage Manager: Amber Dickerson
  • General/Production Mgr.: Ian Pool
  • Technical Director: Jim Glendinning
  • Property Master: Chuck Fox
  • Master Electrician: Christopher V. Lewton
  • Master Sound Technician: Timothy M. Thompson
  • Costume Director: Joseph P. Salasovich

Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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