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A TIME TO KILL at Desiderio’s presents ensemble work at its finest

THE BASICS: A TIME TO KILL, the courtroom drama based on the book by John Grisham, adapted for the stage by Rupert Holmes, presented by Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre, directed by Jay Desiderio, runs for a few more select dates and times: Thursday 6/27 and Saturday 6/29 with arrival at 6, show at 7:30; and one remaining Sunday matinee 6/30, with arrival at 1, show at 2:30 at Bobby J’s Italian American Grille, 204 Como Park Blvd., Cheektowaga (395-3207). www.mybobbyjs.com Runtime: 2 hours, forty-five minutes (that fly right by)

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In rural Canton, Mississippi, Carl Lee Hailey, a distraught black father, avenges his 10-year-old daughter’s brutal rape by shooting the bigoted white men responsible for the crime as they await their trial. While he freely admits what he has done, he turns to Jake Brigance, a self-described “street lawyer” to defend him from the death penalty. Can Brigance do the impossible, given Hailey’s race and the deliberate nature of his crimes? Up against all the resources of “The Great State of Mississippi” Brigance’s legal team includes a drunken, disbarred former lawyer, a questionable medical expert who also drinks and has a dark secret, and a young woman still in law school. Despite advice to change representation, Hailey has unshakable faith in Brigance.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With a huge cast of 15 actors, a few playing double roles, Director Desiderio has put together an extremely satisfying production. I wish that I had gone earlier in the run so that I could have told you earlier how good it is.

But, to use a legal term, “Nunc Pro Tunc” (Now For Then) or the oft-quoted (and widely credited) maxim: “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” the right thing is to call Desiderio’s and see if they have any seats left for the final shows.

The principal leads are Kinzy Brown as defendant Carl Lee Hailey and Peter Horn as his attorney, Jake Brigance, and they are masterful in this play. In the movie, the role of Carl Lee was played by Samuel L. Jackson, whom we all love, but I thought Kinzy Brown was every bit the part. I didn’t miss Mr. Jackson for a second. If you’ve never seen Kinzy Brown in action, well, you’ve got three more chances with this play.

Also, in the movie, lawyer Brigance was played by Matthew McConaughey, but I really can’t say that I missed him either, and I thought that Horn brought in a lot of Hollywood’s Michael Shannon-type coiled edginess (The Shape of Water, Nocturnal Animals) to the role, which was much appreciated.

Other fine performances came from Ronald Hicks as Sheriff Ozzie Walls, the friend you’d love to have in a tight spot; Bob Lohr, completely believable as the avuncular southern “Judge Omar Noose;” and Marc Ruffino as the obnoxious (and he worked hard to make us hate him) District Attorney Rufus R. Buckley.

As opposed to the usual Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre offerings of somewhere between half and all-female casts, this is a decidedly male group, so I want to be sure to mention the sure-handed performances of both Sandra Gilliam as Gwen Hailey, wife of the accused, and Elizabeth Oddy as the law student “Ellen Roark.”

All in all, a fine production that moves along from scene to scene.

UP NEXT: LOST IN YONKERS by Neil Simon, August 1 through September 29, 2019 and then the play which inspired the hit TV series, COLUMBO (PRESCRIPTION MURDER), which will star Jack Hunter who recently received rave reviews as Richard Nixon in FROST/NIXON and Dave Marciniak (currently seen as “Prospero” in Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s THE TEMPEST).

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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