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New Theatrical Version of "In The Heat of the Night" Lands on Newport Stage

It's 1962. A hot August night lies heavy over the small town of Argo, Alabama. A dead white man is found and the local police arrest a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs.
 
Falcon Theatre takes a new stage script (2010) to revive the classic murder mystery, opening Friday the 13th and playing weekends through Feb. 28. You probably know the blockbuster, Academy Award-winning movie from 1967, or the TV series it spawned (still re-running on cable). 
 
If you read or watch the news, you know the topic of black men and white police officers can still be explosive. 
 
New York reviews have called In The Heat of the Night "taut” and “startlingly resonant,” “suspenseful” and “stunningly theatrical.” 
 
The strong ensemble is led by local stage veterans Derek Snow as Tibbs and Michael Hall (a regular on the Falcon stage, most recently in The 39 Steps) as Sheriff Gillespie.
 
Snow says the play is “as timely as I could've ever dreamed."
 
"With the events unfolding daily in our 'post-racial' society, I find myself encouraged by how many things have changed for the better," Snow told The River City News. “And yet, there are still the same problem with acceptance that I thought were fought for and won before I was born. I was used to referring to the Civil Rights Movement in my history books; now it’s with us with a vengeance."
 
In the Heat of the Night is a warning that these issues do (and will) continue to repeat themselves if we aren't vigilant. The essentials remain: It’s the Civil Rights era but there’s plenty of prejudice in the rural South. The small town sheriff’s prime suspect turns out to be a prime homicide detective from the Big City who’s assigned to solve the murder that seems to have no witnesses, no motives, and no clues.
 
Snow promises twists – the play is based on the original novel not the screenplay. 
 
The big difference, says director Ed Cohen, is that “it’s a little more in your face.” There were things that simply weren’t said in a commercial film in the Sixties. (“Horrible, horrible racist language,” Cohen warns.)
 
Cohen isn’t crazy about mysteries, but he loves puzzles. The big puzzle: how to tell a big story written cinematically in 35 scenes (“some half a page long”) on Falcon’s tiny stage. He offers a clue: “Theatrically.”
 
Snow says Tibbs is “about as close to me in real life as any other character I've played: Fairly confident, outspoken and analytical."
 
“He is a man who believes he has to challenge the Southern way of life in the only way he knows how -- with solid police work. He is trying to affect change even where there seems to be little hope for any. He dedicates himself to finding the truth in one of the worst eras of our country's history. And he does it with class and dignity. I love that about him.”
 
In the Heat of the Night, Feb. 13-28. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets $19, $17 students (with ID) and seniors. 513-479-6783 and here.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo: Mike Hall and Derek Snow (provided)
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