BLACK & WHITE
Exploring the gray areas of justice and set design
Not all crimes are black and white. Sometimes you have to explore the gray area in the justice system, and that’s exactly what one small Mississippi town must do in Twin City Stage’s production of A Time to Kill.
In Rupert Holmes‘ adaptation of John Grisham’s 1989 novel, a novel that was also adapted for screen in 1996, Tonya Hailey, a 10-year-old black girl, is brutally raped by two white men. When her father takes vengeance on her attackers, he finds himself standing trial for murder.
“It is a well-crafted, taut and engrossing drama with strong characters and a fascinating story,” said Mark Pirolo, director and scenic designer. “It also has moments of genuine humor and heartbreaking emotion. (It’s) a project that pushes all my buttons.”
Maureen Daly, TCS executive director, adds that the theater chose to produce the show because of both its freshness and tenacious theme.
“The fact that it is a new play based on a very popular book written by a very popular author makes it, hopefully, a recognizable choice for our audience,” Daly said. “It’s a gritty courtroom drama, which is a great complement to the other shows in our season.
“Ultimately, for me, I love the environment that theatre creates for depicting debate, and this show does exactly that. Whether you want to watch the story unfold, or be a voice in one of the many issues it considers, this play offers both.”
To pull off the battle of black vs. white and right vs. wrong, the theater enlisted the help of staff costume designer Justin Hall, as well as the help of its own director to act as scenic designer.
“Designing costumes for A Time to Kill was an interesting process,” Hall explained. “Before the curtain rises, audiences already have preconceived notions as to what people within the judicial system should look like: Judges wear robes, lawyers wear suits, police officers wear uniforms and convicts wear jumpsuits. The rules and perimeters are set. “To help the audience identify the ‘good guys,’ I tried to incorporate a more approachable sense of fashion and familiarity. The more sleek and intimidating menswear was reserved for the opposing council to further depict a sense of division.”
Hall said his favorite costumes for the show were his designs for the character of Lucien Wilbanks, a lawyer who has fallen from grace and has taken to using his accumulated wealth to become a man of leisure.
“Lucien dresses like an island plantation owner: lots of bright colors, linen pants and panama hats,” Hall said. “His character is a refreshing departure from the austere tone of the courtroom.”
Hall also acknowledged the task of creating the play’s costumes to reflect the time period.
“The biggest challenge was to portray the early 1980s without venturing into comical territory,” Hall said. “Many fashion choices that are evocative of that time can easily become distracting: shoulder pads, bright colors, extreme hair and makeup choices. The challenge was to pay homage to the time period without allowing the clothes to become the primary focus.”
As far as completing both role of director and scenic designer, Pirolo says the jobs actually intertwine more than you would think, which makes them a tad easier to fill.
“It is a challenge, but I’ve done it many times before,” Pirolo said. “I’m a very visually oriented director so it gives me the advantage of working toward exactly what I see in my head. On the other hand, I can’t really blame the set designer if the director has any issues with the way the set works.”
Pirolo said the basic exploration of the play, research and character analysis are all the same for both. Plus, the drawings for the design are due long before casting and the start of rehearsals, which makes it easier for him to compartmentalize and conquer.
“After that, the design is the day job, and rehearsals are at night,” he added.
As for the set itself, Pirolo said it was challenging because the play moves quickly between multiple locations.
“That’s always a hurdle, and more and more plays are being written this way,” he said.
Pirolo said the team is also using projections to help tell the story and set the locations and mood. “Those may provide some surprises,” he added. !
Twin City Stage performs A Time to Kill Nov. 7-9 and 13-16 at the Arts Council Theatre, 610 Coliseum Dr,, Winston-Salem. Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors and students. For tickets and more information call 725-4001, or visit twincitystage.org.