Thursday, June 07, 2012

Murder in the First at 59E59

I was drawn to Murder in the First mostly because I was curious to see Chad Kimball in a role other than Huey Calhoun in Memphis. And from the moment this 1940s courtroom drama begins, with Kimball naked and writhing like an animal on the floor, I knew this was different territory. Kimball plays Willie Moore, a man on trial for murdering a fellow inmate with a spoon after three years of solitary confinement in Alcatraz.

Henry Davidson (Guy Burnet) is assigned to the case--his first ever--because it's open and shut. But Henry sees an opportunity to put Alcatraz on trial for the inhumane treatment of Willie. The friendship between Henry and Willie is compelling, but playwright Dan Gordon includes other unnecessary story lines. He introduces the character of Henry's fiancé Mary (Larisa Polonsky) and his brother Byron (John Stanisci), but doesn't flesh them out fully enough to warrant the amount of scenes they have. Director Michael Parva has assembled a large cast to give an authentic feel of the courtroom, and it's a nice touch to have the actors treat the audience as jury.

As for Kimball, he doesn't completely erase the memory of Huey, especially when he draws out his words, but he does give a layered and intense performance, inciting feelings of both fear and sympathy for the volatile and innocent Willie.

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