David and Goliath
To say lawyer, Frank Galvin, is down on his luck would be an understatement. An alcoholic ambulance chaser, Frank's reputation is so far down the scale he’s practically chasing coffins, ringing undertakers to pass on his card to troubled relatives of the deceased. And it’s not just because of the whiskey, Frank’s best friend even if it’s no friend to him. Frank doesn’t know a sure thing when he sees it. Like the three hundred thousand dollar, out of court settlement that’s landed in his lap, with the promise of more work to come if he accepts it. In Middle Ground Theatre Company’s adaptation of Barry Reed’s novel “The Verdict” one man’s pursuit of a medical malpractice case disguises a deeper need for redemption. Superbly paced and beautifully performed, “The Verdict” honours the tradition of great legal dramas as one man goes up against overwhelming odds in his quest for truth.
In Margaret May Hobbs’s fast moving adaptation of Reed’s David and Goliath tale, a tarnished white knight takes on the legal might of the Catholic Church in Boston in 1980. Frank wants a five million dollar settlement for the family of a young woman left in a permanent vegetative state following a botched procedure in one of their hospitals. Putting it down to the will of God won’t cut it for Frank, played with a captivatingly shabby, liquored up unease by Ian Kelsey. Not even if Bishop Brophy, a superb Richard Walsh, says so personally. With the assistance of his retired mentor, Moe Katz, a delightful Denis Lill looking pitch perfect as the Jackie Mason of the legal profession, Frank decides to take it to court. But facing a tough judge in Eldridge Sweeney, Richard Walsh being superb again, and a legal team headed by the legendary J. Edgar Concannon, an impressive Christopher Ettridge, prove to be least of Frank’s worries. Somehow the opposition seem to know every move he’s going to make, with witnesses disappearing and the accused, Rexford Towler MD, a slick Paul Opacic, looking like he might well slip free. Luckily there’s Donna, an invested Josephine Rogers, Frank’s latest love interest who makes him feel like he’s got something still left in him to give. But if the verdict doesn’t come through, looking less likely each passing minute, it could be the end not just for his client, but for Frank.
There’s much to admire in Margaret May Hobbs’s adaptation, owing as much to David Mamet’s 1982 adaptation for the screen, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Paul Newman, as it does to Barry Reed’s original novel. Yet the exclusion of the key hospital scene proves to be a notable ommision, serving, as it does, as the impetus for all that follows. Something multi-talented director and designer Micheal Lunney could easily have handled, with Lunney also featuring onstage as a tender hearted barman and an accused anesthesiologist. Lunney’s set, becoming a wonderful rendered court room post intermission, captures, with wonderful naturalism, the Sam Spade griminess of Frank’s world, contrasted with the bright light, Bostonian back drop. A naturalism that goes to inform many of the superbly rendered performances, even if one or two cast members overstate, on occasion, the understated naturalistic power Lunney’s striving for. Lynette Webster’s score, dominated by haunting arrangements of Irish songs, adds a touch of melancholy Bostonian Irishness, even if Al Jolson’s delightful Anniversary Waltz sounds a little out of place.
Yet these are minor quibbles. In the end “The Verdict” delivers an enjoyable and entertaining night of theatre. It would the foolish to weigh it against the Lumet, Mamet and Newman masterpiece, but should you decide to you’ll find “The Verdict” fares well as an impressive stage adaptation. Indeed, if you like Twelve Angry Men, Inherit The Wind, or To Kill A Mocking Bird, then there’s a very good chance you’ll thoroughly enjoy “The Verdict.”
“The Verdict” adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs from the novel by Barry Reed, presented by Middle Ground Theatre Company by arrangement with Sterling Lord Literistic, New York, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until April 20th.
For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre.