Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
A Time to Kill
Also see Susan's review of Old Times
As staged by Ethan McSweeny on James Noone's busy set, the media plays an ever-present role in the actionto the point that local television news anchor JC Hayward appears (on video screens) as a newscaster reporting on the onstage trial.
Grisham's story concerns a young lawyer in 1985 Mississippi, Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus), and his defense of Carl Lee Hailey (Dion Graham), an African-American man who kills the two white men who admitted raping and beating his 10-year-old daughter. "This is the New South," insists Jake's well-bred wife Carla Jane (Erin Davie, underused), but the facts of the case are incendiary enough to bring out the Ku Klux Klan and, ultimately, the National Guard.
The moral issues are straightforward and so are the major characters, all cast and performed with strength and authority: Jake, determined to seek justice for a wronged manbut also to get the benefits that come from winning such a high-profile case; his antagonist, District Attorney Rufus Buckley (Brennan Brown), slick and openly greedy for political gain; Judge Omar Noose (Evan Thompson), a down-home fellow who doesn't stand for any nonsense in his courtroom; Ellen Roark (Rosie Benton), a law student who wants so badly to be involved in the case that she offers to work for Jake for free; and Lucien Wilbanks (John C. Vennema), Jake's mentor, who also offers assistance despite the fact that he's been disbarred. And, of course, Carl Lee, whom Graham portrays as a man of dignity and righteousness who understands that sometimes what's legal conflicts with what's right.
In other words, this is comfort-food theater of a high order. The issues are clear-cut, the heroes and villains are obvious, and things work themselves out without too many unexpected twistsand it's all done at a very polished level.