A Time to Kill is now enjoying its third life. The play is set in Mississippi in the 1980s, when two drunken white men gang rape a 10-year-old black girl. Fearing that the men will receive a mere slap on the wrist, the girl’s father Carl Lee takes the law in his own hands, shooting them as they are led from court. So begins John Grisham‘s first novel, which was originally rejected by publishers and in 1996 was adapted into a film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey. Rupert Holmes‘ adaptation of the story opened last month at Arena Stage, and it runs to June 19.
Actor Sebastian Arcelus plays Jake Brigance, the lawyer who defends Carl Lee. Arcelus spoke to Arts Desk about Brigance’s surprising complexities, and about how the play departs from its cinematic counterpart.
Washington City Paper: A Time to Kill departs from the film in significant ways. Was it me or was the play rather too funny? The play poked fun at the legal system moreso than focusing on the characters directly harmed by the heinous rape like the film did.
Sebastian Arcelus: Our writer, Rupert Holmes, has found many choice moments to tastefully guide us through that delicate balance with the use of humor. But, no, I certainly don’t think our play is about fun of the legal system or not fully dramatizing the facts of the case. On the contrary, our director, Ethan McSweeney, guided us to dive deeply into the heart of all of these issues, whether they be intellectual, legal, racial, or otherwise. And at the end of the day, audiences are super-adept at recognizing truth, and one way to do that is certainly with laughter. It also probably doesn’t hurt that we’re presenting a smart, fast-paced legal thriller in a town known for its lawyers…
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