We arrived at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angles only to find ourselves entering the auditorium of Howard University Law School in Washington DC. Applause erupted as our eminent lecturer appeared on stage, his arthritic shuffle unable to disguise the vitality of his spirit. His voice, though croaking with age, resounded with authority and commanded full attention. This is a man who, with his passion for justice, held our country accountable to its Constitutional foundation of equal rights. Wielding the law as his weapon, (as he would proudly proclaim throughout his story), he not only helped dissolve segregation in our country, but became an emblem of progress as the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
Both an educational history lesson and a compelling personal narrative, Thurgood recounts the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. This one-man show, written by Emmy Award winning George Stevens Jr, is like a performed memoir, bringing Justice Marshall back to life to speak about his experiences and his crusade for justice. The play’s personable discourse rid it of any resemblance to a droning high school history class (we’ve all been there), and I found myself captivated by the story. Laurence Fishburne all but reincarnated Justice Marshall on stage, speaking about his life with such insight, wisdom, and poignancy that he seemed to be channeling Thurgood’s spirit directly. Depicting Thurgood from young adulthood through his final years, Fishburne delivered an impressive range of physicality and vocal inflection. As the solo performer, he remained fully committed to each moment—his energy never faltered throughout the entire 90-minute performance, and neither did my interest.
Besides Fishburne’s brilliant performance, Leonard Foglia’s directorial choices prevented the play from becoming stale or stagnant (a universal challenge in theatre that is magnified with only a single performer). He utilized the space by setting various vignettes in different areas of the stage, which added visual interest and helped Fishburn’s performance remain fresh.
The set itself was simple yet effective—a stately, mahogany table surrounded by a few chairs, a podium centered behind the table, and a white, stucco American flag backdrop onto which images were projected. The lighting and sound design enhanced the show further by bringing elements of Fishburn’s monologues to life, embellishing his stories with fitting sound effects and establishing different moods with the lighting. Every aspect of this show contributed to the play’s success, coming together in a harmonious balance of education and entertainment.
Thurgood was indeed thoroughly great.
Thurgood is running at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles until August 8.