Monday, October 21, 2013

The Limitations of Theater

As much as I love theater, even I have to admit that it has its limitations, just like any medium, and not all works translate to the stage. John Grisham's A Time To Kill might be one of those works. It's possible that a production could be more effective than the one adapted by Rupert Holmes and directed by Ethan McSweeny that opened last night at the Golden Theatre, but I doubt it would ever really work as a play.
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
In a small town in Mississippi, a 10-year-old black girl is raped by two white men. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey (John Douglas Thompson), takes the law into his own hands and kills the rapists in a courthouse. He hires Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus) as his attorney. It's a compelling story that brings up interesting questions about justice and race, though that mostly gets lost in this production.

The 1989 novel was turned into a popular movie in 1996. But there is a lot you can do on film that you can't do on a stage due to budget and size of cast. Projections are used for some scenes, such as to show a crowd of protestors, but that's just not as scary as it would be to see a mob of KKK members, who threaten Brigance and his family (they are never shown; neither is Hailey's daughter). All of the violence takes place offstage and there is a more humor than necessary, which makes it easy to forget the stakes involved. It's difficult to watch a play that includes description of the rape of a 10-year-old girl and some lightness to relieve the tension is welcome, but at times it plays too much like a comedy.

It is fun to watch Patrick Page chew scenery as the smarmy D.A. And it's nice to see the dependable Thompson in a big Broadway role, but I hope next time to see him star in a play that will stay with you longer than the subway ride home.

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