October 4, 2013

John Grisham to hit the boards of Broadway


Theaters on Broadway

According to Playbill, a new Broadway show based on John Grisham’s bestselling book, A Time to Kill, will open at the end of the month. (Previews have already started.)

Appropriately, Grisham’s first novel is also his first trip to Broadway. Published in 1989, A Time to Kill was not immediately a hit, and in fact didn’t find an audience until after Grisham was famous for later books, including The Firm and The Client.

Grisham’s books are favorites in Hollywood, and his website lists eight titles that have been made into films with consistently A-list talent, with The Firm (starring Tom Cruise), The Pelican Brief (starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington) and The Client (starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones) all released in 1993 and 1994. The other Grisham movies are The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, and the instant classic, Christmas with the Kranks. (Yes, one of these things is not like the other.)

Playbill quotes Grisham on A Time to Kill:

“For almost a quarter of a century, ‘A Time to Kill’ has captivated readers with its raw exploration of race, retribution and justice,” said Grisham in an earlier statement. “It was my first book and the first that I have allowed to be adapted for the theatre. Rupert Holmes did an excellent job of translating it from the page to the stage, and I am happy that not only my loyal readers, but a whole new audience will be able to experience this story in live theatre. I am looking forward to opening night on Broadway!”

The production stars Sebastian Arcelus (who will be recognizable to anyone who binge watched House of Cards) as lawyer Jake Brigance and Patrick Page as opposing attorney Rufus Buckley. Grisham’s website summarizes the book:

The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young man. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle — and takes justice into his own outraged hands.

For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life…and then his own…

The Wrap asks why now, 20 years after it was first published, and 15 years after the movie made Matthew McConaughey a star, and cites Trayvon Martin and the NYPD policy of stop-and-frisk:

“It’s become almost cliched to say that a play is timely, but it’s cliched for a reason,” Sebastian Arcelus, the “House of Cards” star who is stepping into McConaughey’s role as a crusading attorney, told The Wrap. “The play may be set in the 1980s at a different point in our racial disharmony, but even though we have an African-American president and some people think we live in a post-racial period, we’re still asking the question of if justice is really blind?”

It’s a question that was frequently raised this summer as a Florida jury deliberated over whether or not to let George Zimmerman go free for the shooting death of an African-American teenager named Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted.

It’s also an issue that has been roiling the city where “A Time to Kill” debuts, as a debate rages over the New York City police department’s stop-and-frisk program, which has seen officers detain and search a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos. The controversy over the public safety risks and rewards of these policies became a key issue in the Democratic mayoral primary and was seen as a contributing factor in the victory of Bill de Blasio, who made his opposition to the program a key campaign point.

Grisham revisits the character of Jack Brigance in Sycamore Row, being published by Knopf Doubleday on October 22.


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.