John Grisham, the author of such Southern lawyer-in-peril bestsellers as "The Firm" and "The Pelican Brief," has seen seven of his legal thrillers turned into feature films. On Sunday, Grisham attended the opening of the first Broadway production based on one of his books, "A Time to Kill."
Published in 1989, "A Time to Kill" was Grisham's first novel. The story follows a young, relatively inexperienced attorney as he defends a father who killed the men who raped his daughter. The novel was made into a movie in 1996 with Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey and Sandra Bullock.
The stage version of "A Time to Kill" was produced at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes, the play officially debuted at the John Golden Theatre in New York on Sunday.
In what seems like a bit of marketing synergy, the New York production opened the same week as the release of Grisham's new novel, "Sycamore Row," which is a sequel to "A Time to Kill." The new book is scheduled to go on sale on Tuesday.
The Broadway ensemble cast includes Fred Dalton Thompson, the veteran actor who served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee. Thompson plays the role of Judge Omar Noose, the character played by actor Patrick McGoohan in the 1996 movie.
What did New York critics think of the play?
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called the play "efficient but hardly pulse-racing," writing that this "workmanlike version of Mr. Grisham's book never succeeds in generating much steam as it moves through a tale of rape, murder and justice."
Variety's Marilyn Stasio wrote that "there's a distinctly dated feeling to the material — not the topic of Southern racism, but the youthful idealism of its hero." Despite a sturdy cast and production, "this courtroom drama feels as if it were made for an earlier, less cynical era."
David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter described the show as a "formulaic courtroom drama ... in which every liberal-pandering response has been hardwired into the dated material." It's the "theatrical equivalent of summer beach reading or the almost obsolete low-concept popcorn movie."
Newsday's Linda Winer wrote that show is "2-1/ 2 hours of competent acting and monotonous storytelling that seldom elevate the serious plot -- a black man shoots the white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter -- from the genre of theatrical hokum."