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Review Roundup: A TIME TO KILL Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

A TIME TO KILL opens tonight, Oct. 20, on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre. The production, based upon John Grisham's best-selling novel, stars Sebastian Arcelus, Chike Johnson, Patrick Page, Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, Emmy Award winner Tom Skerritt, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Douglas Thompson, and Ashley Williams, plus Jeffrey M. Bender, Dashiell Eaves, J.R. Horne, John Procaccino, Tijuana Ricks, and Lee Sellars.

Adapted by Tony Award-winning playwright Rupert Holmes, Ethan McSweeny directs A Time To Kill, which features features scenic design by James Noone, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, and projection design by Jeff Sugg.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: despite the play's flaws, director Ethan McSweeny turns in a tense and energetic production, featuring a tight ensemble that glosses over the rough patches. James Noone's versatile set, utilizing a tall wood-planked wall and a turntable floor, smoothly glides to multiple locations. Jeff Croiter's lights, Jeff Sugg's projections and Lindsay Jones' sound establish the outside world with visual and audible evidence of Klan rallies, protests and a child's-eye view of the event that sets the story in motion. (The projected epilogue may either warm your heart or make you roll your eyes with its sentimentality.)

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Rupert Holmes' stage adaptation of John Grisham's first novel, "A Time to Kill," comes at a sweet moment for the author, whose belated sequel to that 1989 book, "Sycamore Row," is being published this month. But a 25-year time lapse that works on the page doesn't necessarily play on the stage, and there's a distinctly dated feeling to the material - not the topic of Southern racism, but the youthful idealism of its hero. And despite a sturdy ensemble production helmed by Ethan McSweeny, this courtroom drama feels as if it were made for an earlier, less cynical era."

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: "Holmes' Kill is more sharply focused than the 1996 film adaptation of the novel, and does a better job of incorporating folksy humor into the disturbing and at times pedantic story...we watch the defendant, Carl Lee Hailey, as a jury would; and since he is played by the magnificent John Douglas Thomson - who delivers the most fully realized performance here - we are moved by his anguish, rage, obstinance and fundamental dignity...Carl Lee is represented by Kill's hero, Jake Brigance, an idealistic young lawyer played on screen by Matthew McConaughey, who imbued him with a slick nobility. In the play, he seems both greener and more ambitious, traits that Sebastian Arcelus' nimble performance emphasizes, without making Jake less appealing or admirable."

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: "...in a Broadway season quickly beginning to gather its own steam, this mechanical legal procedural cannot, I'm afraid, even outdo the competition in constant rotation on TV...if you've seen the movie, you may at times feel like you're watching it again through a slightly blurry lens, since both Mr. Arcelus and Mr. Page seem to have been cast for their ability to impersonate their counterparts in the film... this competent but bland production goes down like a big tumbler of sweet tea. A really effective courtroom drama should sear the throat like a shot of Southern moonshine."

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "...as anyone who has stayed up late watching a Law & Order repeat knows, familiarity can be enormously reassuring. And Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) does an admirable job of condensing Grisham's 600-plus-page book, jettisoning entire subplots and characters (the wife of Jake, our defense lawyer hero, for instance) while emphasizing the story's dramatic highlights. Unfortunately, this also means that character development often gets short shrift. Ashley Williams' Boston-bred law student, who joins the defense team and has a brief flirtation with Jake, seems particularly sketchy... There isn't much subtlety in A Time To Kill - Lindsay Jones' overly intrusive underscore cues up at every dramatic moment - but it manages to convey a mostly satisfying sense of justice being served."

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "A paperback copy of John Grisham's novel "A Time to Kill" will set you back less than $10. The DVD of the film will cost a few bucks more. The new adaptation on Broadway? Tickets at the box office start at $70. Save your money...director Ethan McSweeny and a talented cast that includes standouts Patrick Page, Tom Skerritt and Fred Dalton Thompson can't seem to get any traction with a story about the case of a black father who kills the white men who raped his daughter."

Linda Winer, Newsday: "Courtroom dramas once had a long, respectable tradition as entertaining, easy-mark theater. After decades of legal procedurals on TV and film, however, it takes fresh urgency, irresistible casting and a real pulse to justify a big-ticket Broadway version. Under Ethan McSweeny's conscientious direction, what we get instead is 2 1/2 hours of competent acting and monotonous storytelling that seldom elevate the serious plot -- a black man shoots the white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter -- from the genre of theatrical hokum."

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "'A Time to Kill,' also the basis for a memorable film, begins as a horrifying act is perpetrated upon a young black girl carrying groceries to her family. When her father, Carl Lee (here, John Douglas Thompson, excellent) finds out about the rape, he guns down the scoundrels. To keep him off death row, cocky attorney Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus) will have to prove Carl Lee was temporarily insane...Arcelus ("House of Cards"), as the good Southern boy who takes on Carl Lee's case partly out of his own guilt over not preventing the crime, is lost here, almost as if he's just blandly working a table reading...Jake's wife and daughter have been mostly written out of the story; so, too, has a pivotal element of the book that had Ellen Roark's character attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, with this script, much of the action has been wrung right out of the story."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "The audience becomes the jury in A Time To Kill, Rupert Holmes' by-the-numbers stage adaptation of John Grisham's page-turning 1989 debut novel. But unlike the workings of a real jury, there's no room for ambiguity, moral complexity or startling insight in this formulaic courtroom drama about institutionalized racism in the Deep South, in which every liberal-pandering response has been hardwired into the dated material. Sturdy ensemble acting and Grisham's compelling storytelling make this go down easily, but the production provides little persuasive evidence that the thriller needed to become a play."

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: "A thriller of the sort rarely seen on Broadway these days, John Grisham's "A Time to Kill" brings a satisfying, if unsettling, courtroom drama to the Golden Theatre with an engaging cast playing juicy dramatic characters in a lurid tale spiked with a mild frisson of sex...They're all appealing, in comic-strip-thin roles. Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood") has streamlined the narrative almost to the point of flash cards. Ethan McSweeny's staging, in contrast, is oddly stilted, with drawn-out scene changes (the sets are by James Noone) and portentous music (by Lindsay Jones) that drag the story-telling for no apparent reason. Still, the twists and surprises of Grisham's efficient revenge-tragedy come through and the actors are good company for a couple of hours; I never was bored."

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: "...the producers of "A Time to Kill" have lavished Holmes' play with an old-fashioned cast of players, numbering no fewer than 17 actors. Too bad that huge cast doesn't have a vintage story to tell, because when you strip Grisham's panoramic tale of racism and injustice in a small Mississippi city down to a courtroom drama, there really isn't much of a trial at the heart of it...Under Ethan McSweeny's direction at the Golden Theater, only John Douglas Thompson, Tonya Pinkins as his supportive wife and Patrick Page as the smarmy prosecutor (the Spacey role) are able to tweak this character dross into star turns. In his Broadway debut, Tom Skerritt keeps entering and exiting like a lost ghost in white hair and designer David C. Wollards's equally bleached-out linens."

Matt Windman, AM New York: "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."

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: "Courtroom claustrophobia can create drama. But there's no tension here. Worse, there's no context. Clanton is roiling with racial hate. Jake risks his career, his wife and child (never seen in the play) and his life for the case. That doesn't come through. We're told about a burned-down house. We're given a report about racist chants. But we don't see or hear them. Charged with the dramatic felony of telling instead of showing, "A Time to Kill" is guilty. Throw the book at it."

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: "It's the glory of courtroom melodrama that all kinds of flaws can be overlooked if the story is tense and dramatic, with juicy revelations and legal fireworks. But this production has all the snap of a plate of overcooked linguine. There are a couple of trial tricks, as Jake tries to get Hailey acquitted with an insanity defense, but the evening mostly just bumbles tediously along."

Scott Brown, Vulture: "The play's a series of battles that don't quite add up to a war, possibly because the real enemy-Monolithic Whiteness-doesn't make an honest appearance. The show's less strenuously riveting moments, as opposed to the drowsy-making courtroom speeches, are also its best. I especially enjoyed the elliptical, only half-intelligible conversations between Jake and his mentor, disbarred, sleepily devious Lucien Wilbanks (Tom Skerritt), a progressive sot who enjoys regular regressions into Margaritaville. Skerritt is so relaxed, you can barely understand his cottony mouthfuls of dialogue, but he's a loose, disarming present in a highly staged, totally controlled environment. In A Time To Kill, every familiar beat arrives right on time-but Skerritt's always just a little late. I appreciated the spontaneity, intentional or not."

David Cote, TimeOutNY: Arcelus exudes decency without losing charm, but more notable is Thompson as the unrepentant vigilante. Hailey could have been indigestibly dignified and tragic, but thanks to Thompson's gruff yet light touch, he's richly human: neither fully innocent nor guilty.

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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