If you are interested in a timely and arresting courtroom drama, run don't walk to Theatre 68's West Coast Premiere of John Grisham's "A Time To Kill, " adapted for its new stage in the North Hollywood Arts District by Rupert Holmes and running through November 19th.
This is the story of a black man on trial for killing the two men who so brutally raped his young daughter.
But on a larger scale, it is a tale which asks what justice is and when it is right to take it into our own hands.
This beautifully conceived and staged production grips us, the audience, in colors of magenta and turquoise, orange and midnight black.
Ian Robert Peterson & Bechir Sylvain
It is a fascinating and mesmerizing look at not only small-town America but our own divisive and small-minded vices and vitriol in today's bloody and beleaguered world.
In questioning and conversing about race, an unbalanced justice system, sex, family, crime and how we as a society view white and black children, this play soars.
It sets itself apart from other theatre and rises to the level of extraordinary art.
The play does nothing less than what great theatre aspires to do: inspire, enlighten, invigorate and educate.
Grisham's language is sharp, scathing, witty, funny and poetic.
It inspires actor chemistry and gets to the point by developing characters that stay in our memory forever.
His is a fascinating talent that builds scenes and paints pictures with words.
Mercedes Manning & Ian Robert Peterson
Grisham's gift drips with pathos and dark humor.
Holmes adapts the bestselling book to the stage clearly, compassionately and transparently.
He does not miss a beat in accuracy, acuteness or agility.
We, the audience, see the characters come to life before our eyes on the newly-minted boards of Lankershim Boulevard.
Director Ronnie Marmo also stays in dramatic rhythm.
Allowing the actors the freedom to perform and move, Theatre 68's Artistic Director offers a breathtakingly profound understanding of Grisham's work and the underlying fears and doubts.
The director and producer of over 90 plays helms the material with confidence, passion, purpose, and love.
Marmo's is a unique gift complete with a brilliant touch and magic wand full of pixie dust and greasepaint.
The veteran film director and producer assembles a deeply talented cast that makes the very most of Grisham's words and worldview.
Stand outs include:
Gregory Thirloway (Rufus R. Buckley) offers a convincing turn. In making an unlikeable character likable he brings levity and humor to a somber courtroom.
The Theatre 68 first-timer has us, the audience, eating from his hands. The professionalism, control and sense of humor the theatre, film and tv veteran display are non plus ultra and will long be remembered for their originality and boldness.
Thirloway alone is reason enough to see the play.
Ian Robert Peterson & Gregory Thirloway
Bechir Sylvain (Carl-Lee Hailey) proves that passion, precision, and practice pay.
The Haitian-American actor almost runs away with the play with a portrayal both parts cerebral and heartfelt.
Talent seeping from every pore, the tv ("Uncle Buck," "Angel of Hell," "Fuller House," "Thunderman's," "Family Time") and film ("The Ultimate Life," and "Life After Beth") actor possesses enough stage presence for ten actors.
The co-founder of the Miami-based theatre company, Ground Up and Rising, especially shines, scares and seduces in the scene where he is being cross-examined on the stand by Thirloway.
It is a memorable moment in the play that this critic will long remember.
Truly, an up-and-coming name with plenty of fire yet to burn.
But it is Ian Robert Peterson (Jake Brigance) who steals the show. In a performance, both parts sky high and basement low. the American Musical Dramatic Academy graduate uncorks a compassion, sincerity, and sensitivity that give his naturalistic characterization a depth, feel and profundity uncommon in these parts.
The Los Angeles-based actor infuses the main role with an almost bipolar temperament that gives it and the play an unusually dark side at times.
But the mood is tempered by an intelligence and wisdom beyond its years.
Peterson brings a down-to-earth friendliness and charm to his character that make him likable and proud inside and outside of the courtroom.
The actor who played the title role in William Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" shows off a range that allows him both to use the system and have the system use him.
This critic hopes to see Peterson on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Furthering the play's message are Danny Cistone's innovative set design, Matthew Richter's lighting design, Aaron Craig's sound design and Crystal Craft's wardrobe design.
All in all, "A Time To Kill" succeeds because of its deep and dark roots, not despite them.
It blossoms before our eyes like a rose or river flowing into an ocean.
Graduating from amateur to expert and from mere mainstream fodder into groundbreaking art, the play is a seething indictment of racism, violence and hatred wherever they may raise their ugly heads...
In its own way it is calling for coexistence.
The drama, which lasts 135 minutes with an intermission, dishes and dances, prattles and prances and whistles and whispers its way into our hearts and souls.
The final 15 minutes, in fact, which include an electric and magnetic closing monologue from Peterson, are not to be missed.
The production does not rely on our knowledge of the Ku Klux Klan or recent shootings of black men by police to work but is fueled by these current events.
It asks us to reflect and meditate on why they are taking place at this time in the nation's history.
The play proves, above all else, that love and courage go hand-in-hand in making a difference in this world.
That without bold ideas and strong people to execute them, there would be no politics, art, sport or business nor the firmament to steep them in.
The first play for a theatre company in a new location is always a special and glorious event, but is especially true now as Theatre 68 christens its new home on Lankershim Boulevard with a production for the ages in terms of scope, skill, and set.
Hopefully, the remodeled theatre will prove to be the incarnation of many more prolific plays, performances, programs and peaks.
For if the initial production is any indication, North Hollywood and Los Angeles, for that matter, are in for rare treat after rare treat from the new denizen on the block.
Anything else would be out of step from what this critic has already seen and is certainly sure to witness in the future.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
5112 Lankershim Blvd.,,
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Street Parking Available