Trials on the New York Stage

December 8, 2013 Updated: December 9, 2013

 “The Winslow Boy” is Terence Rattigan’s 1946 drama based on an actual case involving an upper middle-class family battling for its honor.  The Roundabout Theater’s revival, directed by Lindsay Posner, is first-rate. 

Roger Rees is outstanding as Arthur Winslow, whose  13-year-old son Ronnie (Spencer Davis Milford)  is accused of stealing a postal order of five shillings. Winslow seeks to retain the eminent barrister, Sir Robert Morton (Alessandro Nivola) to represent the boy.  Nivola is commanding as the haughty attorney, though he doesn’t match Robert Donat (star of the first film version) for romantic appeal.

 Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is Arthur’s sympathetic wife, Grace, who cannot control her husband’s drive for justice, as it threatens their security.  Charlotte Parry is Catherine, daughter of Arthur and Grace, engaged to an army officer (Chandler Williams). The sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh look just right and, in fact, so does the entire production.

 While “The Winslow Boy” never sets foot in the courtroom, “A Time To Kill” rarely steps out of it. John Grisham’s novel was turned into a successful movie and is now a play, adapted by Rupert Holmes.

The script, like the novel, is a bit of a potboiler with a troubling message. In a small town in Mississippi, a young lawyer, Jake Brigance (Sebastian Arcelus), defends a black man, Carl Lee Hailey (John Douglas Thompson), charged with murdering the two men who brutally beat and raped his ten-year old daughter. Brigance is up against the oily district attorney, Rufus Buckley (Patrick Page). My problem with the work is that the perpetrators are under arrest when Hailey shoots them. Thus, the audience is cheering an act of vigilantism when the legal system may have worked.

It’s a measure of the unevenness of the production, directed by Ethan McSweeny, that the strongest performance comes from John Douglas Thompson in the supporting role of the defendant.  Tonya Pinkins is completely wasted in the role of his wife. Page is amusing with his mellifluous voice and movie veterans Tom Skerritt and Fred Dalton Thompson have their moments. In the lead role, Sebastian Arcelus makes less of an impression that his cinematic predecessor.

 Bruce Norris’ new play, “Domesticated” (at Lincoln Center’s Newhouse Theater) starts with a familiar scene. A politician appears before the press, with his wife, announcing that he has decided to resign after an extramarital episode with a hooker. To make matters worse, the young woman was left comatose after the encounter.  

As the politician, Jeff Goldblum maintains a hangdog expression during the first act while his wife (played with ferocity by Laurie Metcalf) verbally assaults him. At other times, his older daughter (Emily Meade) does the same. During the second act, the spellbinding Goldblum gets a chance to present his side.

Norris writes tart and often hilarious dialogue but most of the scenes seem unbelievable. For example, would a politician disgraced in this fashion be able to return to his former profession of gynecologist? There is also a murky legal proceeding, though unlike the two other plays, the lawsuit is not the central part of the plot. More relevant is the fact that the politician slept with the lawyer representing him.

“Domesticated” is not up to the level of Norris’ Pulitzer Prize–winning “Clybourne Park” but Goldblum and Metcalf and the rest of the cast, ably directed by Anna D. Shapiro, all score points.  

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