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BWW Review: Splendidly Intense West Coast Premiere of A TIME TO KILL at Theatre 68

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Almost fifteen years ago, Ronnie Marmo pulled together a group of his most talented friends in Los Angeles and created The 68 Cent Crew Company, after having arrived here with 68 cents in his pocket and a head full of dreams. So, when a company member recently asked him what they could do about terrible current events, and about how our country is dealing with racism, perfect timing intervened the following morning when the play A TIME TO KILL came across his desk, and as the father of an 8- year-old child, Marmo knew he needed to present it.


Set in a current day perspective, A TIME TO KILL tells the story of Jake Brigance (Ian Robert Peterson in a star-making turn), an idealistic white lawyer from Ford County, Mississippi, who sits in on a harrowing court case involving a 10-year-old black girl named Tonya Hailey who was brutally raped and beaten by two white men. Jake is shaken by the testimony of the girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey (Derek Shaun) as he describes his anger and guilt for not being there to save her from the attack. When Hailey shoots the two men about to face trial, Jake sees Hailey's act of vengeance against the racist men who attacked his daughter as a desperate bid for justice, and he's willing to risk everything to defend his client's life.

With the help of his oft-inebriated mentor Lucien Wilbanks (Hawaiian-shirt clad Paul Thomas Arnold) and a bright young law student named Ellen Roark (wonderfully intense Mercedes Manning who knows just how to use her fake-Southern feminine wiles on men), Brigance goes head to head against district attorney Rufus R. Buckley (Greg Thirloway whose powerful smile could almost get you to believe whatever he says), a man with political dreams of his own. As the trial heats up, the community is torn apart in this gripping adaptation of John Grisham's incendiary novel about race, crime, and family in small-town America that asks the question: when is it right to take justice into your own hands? Under Marmo's brilliant direction, the entire cast shines every moment they are onstage. Hansford Price shines a Sherriff Ozzie Walls, a black man who know just how far he can push without overstepping his place with Judge Omar Noose (a very appropriate name), portrayed as a real Southern good old boy by John William Young. And the two young men who portray the white trash attackers of the young girl are perfectly cast with Stephen Wu letting us see the evil in Bill Ray Cobb's heart with his every sneer and Christopher Kelly as the guilt-ridden confessor Pete Willard who lives in terror of his friend's wrath.

Another star of the show is the innovative, multi-functionAl Small set design by Danny Cistone which transforms pieces from a judge's desk into a front porch staircase, along with tables moved by cast members to allow the courtroom perspective to change so the audience becomes members of the jury. And trust me, when Peterson and Thirloway stare into your eyes as they do their best to persuade you to take their side in Hailey's case, a chill will run down your back! The overbearing intensity of their scenes will startle you, especially those of us who have never spent any time in the Deep South to experience the reality of apparent racism.

I cannot encourage you enough to grab tickets and see the artistically beautiful West Coast premiere of A TIME TO KILL, adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes based on the classic bestseller by John Grisham, directed by Ronnie Marmo in Theatre 68's new home in the former Antaeus/Deaf West space, located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. The production continues through January 28 on Fri & Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm. An additional performance has been added on Thursday, January 26. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at http://theatre68.com/ Don't wait as the small space will undoubtedly sell out frequently!


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