Oklahoma City Theatre Company opens its 15th season in the newly remodeled CitySpace with John Ball’s “In the Heat of the Night” adapted for the stage by Matt Pelfrey.
This new play had its premiere in 2010; it’s drawn from the 1965 novel that inspired the 1967 film. Set in Argo, Alabama, in 1962, the story puts Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from California, in the midst of the murder of a local real estate mogul. In a small town in the deep south, Tibbs is a black man who is an outsider, has money in his pockets, and (perhaps most suspicious) is wearing a nice suit; he is therefore an automatic suspect. Arrested by Deputy Woods and interrogated by Sheriff Gillespie, Tibbs is ordered by his own boss to be of assistance in the investigation. Neither Tibbs nor Gillespie is particularly happy about it, but over the course of the story, as they confront racism and solve a murder, the men develop a certain respect for one another.
John Ball’s “In the Heat of the Night” is exactly the kind of play that fits well in the intimate, arena-style CitySpace. The conflicts should prove more intense at close range, and the exploration of the racist actions and language more affecting in the tight confines of the smaller theatre. The newly renovated “black box” in the Civic Center is a deep thrust theatre that seats about 90. The booth has been relocated and the seating has been upgraded from stackable chairs to fixed (and far more comfortable) theatre seating.
Pelfrey (author of “Impending Rupture of the Belly”) has produced an episodic script of small, tight scenes. This kind of writing can be very challenging to produce, but OKCTC’s Artistic Director, Rachel Irick, has a lot of experience working with tricky scripts. Her directing credits include “Quilters,” “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” and her own adaptation of “The Orestaia,” among many others. In some ways, directing in the altered CitySpace provided the more unexpected challenges; Irick has years of experience with the space and its sightlines—but they have changed. “There used to be aisles over there,” she said, “and they’ve moved!”
The cast of “In the Heat of the Night” includes Terrell Brooks as Virgil Tibbs and Mark Loftis as Bill Gillespie, with Ian Clinton, Tyler Waits, Thomas Ryan, JD Begner, David Fletcher-Hall, Matt Canann, Mariah Webb, Krissy Jones, and Joshua Irick.
OKCTC has partnered with artist Albert Bostick in the lobby display; the series of paintings deals with recent serious racial issues in American life. These paintings, in combination with the gritty environment of the play, should create a very thought-provoking evening of theatre. The show is recommended for mature audiences due to offensive language and the use of gunshots (blanks).
John Ball’s “In the Heat of the Night” opens Friday, August 16 and runs through September 1. Shows are at 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday evenings, with Sunday matinee performances at 2:00 on August 25 and September 1. The CitySpace theatre is located on the lower level of the Civic Center Music Hall. Purchase tickets through the OKCTC website at www.okctheatrecompany.org.
Watch The Oklahoman for a review late next week!