PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: A Time to Kill — A Grisham Goes Broadway

By Harry Haun
21 Oct 2013

Rupert Holmes
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
At the party that followed the curtain calls, held at the elegant Bryant Park Grill, adapter Holmes came in for a lot of praise for the unexpected humor and character comedy that he extracted from the grim, sad circumstances of a murder trial.

"It was a joy to write and adapt John Grisham's work," he said. "As I went through it, I thought, 'You know, there's a lot of things in this novel, but if you put them on a Broadway stage, some of the byplay of the characters is actually quite funny, and I thought it was possible for us to have an interesting blend of chills, of deep passion, of moral issues, of judicial issues, and also have some fun with the courtroom."

As the accused, John Douglas Thompson brings enormous dignity and compassion to the part. He normally works with classical plays and not in this century at all.

But he will be staying in the 20th century for his next project, which will be coming Off-Broadway in mid-March: Satchmo at the Waldorf. "We did it in Boston at Shakespeare & Company," he said. "It's written by Terry Teachout, who's the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal. He wrote a book called 'Pops,' and then from 'Pops' he wrote a play which is essentially about Louis Armstrong and the relationship he had with his manager, a Jewish gentleman by the name of Joe Glaser, who was also a mobster. He was his manager for 40 years, pretty much till Joe Glaser passed away in 1969, and then two years later Armstrong passed away, so it's really about the complex relationship they had over the years.

"I'm of a different generation, obviously, but a lot of the people who came to the show were certainly Armstrong generation or certainly saw him toward the end of his life or in the middle of his life and became very familiar with him through 'Hello, Dolly!' of all things. And they really took to the show. I just realized he's a beloved icon, not only in America but throughout the world. There were a lot of people who came to the show from different countries, and what they got from the show was this whole different side of Armstrong. We totally get his public persona because we've seen him in films and concerts, but this is much more about the his private world, so I'm very excited to get a chance to do that in New York."

Southern-fried and silver-tongued, Patrick Page has the enviable, scene-stealing spot of any courtroom drama — the prosecuting attorney (in this case, Rufus R. Buckley, Polk County district attorney who is using a headline-hot trial to showboat his way into the governor's mansion). It was from this particular courtroom slot that George C. Scott stole "Anatomy of a Murder" and Sanford Meisner stole "The Story on Page One."

"It's a great position to be given in the show, especially if you're prosecuting someone the audience wants to see acquitted," Page conceded.

The accent came easily for him. "It's a gift when a playwright gives you a real context like that. You know exactly where the man is from. I was able to find the accent because I remembered hearing historian Shelby Foote on the Civil War series that Ken Burns did, and he had an accent that has really been dying out. Thank God, I found this recording of two hours of William Faulkner reading his own work. Once I found that, it was everything for me. It's strange how you can find a little extra detail like that and everything will fall into place. Once I found that, I knew the guy."

Page certainly dresses for courtroom battle and, quite possibly, the governorship. One shiny blue suit is a particular standout, and he was quick to give credit where credit was due: "Those are all done by David C. Woolard. When I got the role, David wrote me and said, 'We're going to do some killer suits for you on this show.' They were all tailored to me and made by a tailor in New York so they're bespoke suits."