A Time to Kill, John Grisham Novel, Is Now a Courtroom Drama, Opening May 22

By Kenneth Jones
May 22, 2011

Broadway's Sebastian Arcelus, of Elf and Jersey Boys, takes a more serious — and non-singing — role in A Time to Kill, Rupert Holmes' stage adaptation of the novel by John Grisham, opening in its world premiere May 22 at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.



Previews began May 6. Arcelus plays defense attorney Jake Brigance in the race-related, Southern-set courtroom drama. Broadway's Erin Davie (Grey Gardens, A Little Night Music) plays his wife, Carla; Dion Graham (Marcus Gardley's On the Levee at Lincoln Center) plays defendant Carl Lee Hailey.

The Ethan McSweeny-directed production runs to June 19 in Arena's Kreeger Theatre in the Mead Center for American Theater.

Produced by special arrangement with commercial producer Daryl Roth, the fiery drama is said to be Broadway-bound. Holmes won the Tony Award for his book and score of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. McSweeny directed the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.

A Time to Kill "depicts a Mississippi town’s upheaval when Carl Lee Hailey takes the law into his own hands following an unspeakable crime committed against his daughter," according to Arena. "Now on trial for murder, Carl Lee's only hope lies with one young, idealistic lawyer Jake Brigance, who is outmatched by the formidable district attorney, Rufus Buckley, and under attack from both sides of a racially divided city."

During previews Tony Award winner Holmes (Edwin Drood; Curtains; Say Goodnight, Gracie, "Remember WENN") told Playbill.com via email, "It's slightly astounding to think that — before he became the master of the legal thriller and one of the best-selling authors of all time — John Grisham created, in his off-hours as a practicing attorney, his tumultuous first novel about rape and murder, vengeance and justice, whites and blacks. In adapting A Time to Kill for the stage, it's a great privilege to work alongside his characters, and an absolute rush to live in this landscape, amid the summer steam and barbeque smoke of the Deep South that Grisham knows so well. We've tried to corral the emotions and events of his sweeping novel into and around the Ford County courthouse where so much of the novel's action occurs. And we hope the end result will be a new theatrical courtroom drama that explores issues as volatile and complex today as when John Grisham penned his very first page. It's a particular pleasure to take on this challenge with such an adroit company, insightful director, and inventive creative team, here in the nurturing environment of the stunning new Arena Stage."

Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith said in a statement, "Producing a work that asks big questions about how we live in the world takes a dynamic team. Rupert Holmes and Ethan McSweeny are an ideal duo to take on this powerful courtroom drama. Daryl Roth, a committed and bold producer, brought this potential project to Arena over a year ago, and we have been thrilled to work together on the birth of this new play."

The cast of A Time to Kill also features the respected character actor Evan Thompson (Broadway's 1776, City of Angels and An American Daughter) as Judge Omar Noose; Rosie Benton (Broadway's Accent on Youth) as young law clerk Ellen; Brennan Brown (The Persians and Pinter's The Celebration Off-Broadway) as the D.A.; plus Jeffrey M. Bender, Trena Bolden Fields, Jonathan Lincoln Fried, Deborah Hazlett, Joe Isenberg, Chike Johnson, Michael Marcan, Hugh Nees and John C. Vennema.

Projections designed by Jeff Sugg and displayed on 1980s-type television sets "reinforce the trial as a media sensation," and "a turntable set designed by James Noone helps tell the story in and out of the courtroom."

The production team of A Time to Kill includes costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer York Kennedy, sound designer Lindsay Jones, fight director David Leong, dialect consultant Lynn Watson, wig designer Anne Nesmith, stage manager Susan R. White, assistant stage manager Amber Dickerson, and New York casting by Tara Rubin Casting.

For tickets and information, visit www.arenastage.org.