|Some stories deserve to be told. There are instances in history that demand people know and remember them. The life story of Thurgood Marshall is one all Americans should know. The Baltimore born, African American kid, who was the grandson of a slave, turned NAACP lawyer arguing the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 only begins to scratch the surface of his long and productive life. This man opened the Civil Rights Movement wide open by taking on “separate but equal” segregation arguing that it was unconstitutional, and later become the first African American Supreme Court Justice. His story is one that should be shared, and ideally, not solely via big and sometimes tedious textbooks that we often are made to learn our history lessons from. Theatre has a beautiful way in educating and is enlightening and this is the perfect story to be told.
Thurgood is now playing at the Geffen Playhouse through August 8th. You don’t have much time. Why pay good money to catch up on some history that you may or may not know about? Why go see a one man show (which are always hard to pull off)? Neither sound like compelling reasons to go. I say, go and see this production because there is a magical combination of a truly great story (not to be confused with a truly great script) and a truly great actor delivering it. We can thank Thurgood Marshall and his achievements and courage for the story. We can thank the one and only Lawrence Fishburne for his dedication to the performance. Let me remind you that Fishburne is an Oscar nominee, a Tony nominee for this particular role, and a Tony winner for August Wilson’s, Two Trains Running. He is probably most well known for his film work, but this man was born to be on stage. And he was born to play this role. His presence and energy is stunning.
As previously stated, this is a one-man show. I had a tinge of doubt when Thurgood walked out on stage with a cane and grey hair, voice slightly quivering… I worried the whole story would be told through the 84-year old Thurgood, and I questioned the choice of Fishburne to deliver it. Quickly, the years disappeared and most of the show was in the form of a direct address by a younger Thurgood, to the audience at Howard University. It was a fairly intimate conversation with the audience, actually. An intimate conversation that stayed far, far away from anything more than a mention of questionable aspects of Mr. Marshall’s life, such as his love for excessive drinking and ladies, despite being a married man. True, the inclusion might have made for a spicier script (it was rather flat), but I think it would have ventured into National Enquirer land… and playwright, George Stevens Jr. was right to steer clear. Casting Lawrence Fishburne expertly brought the script to life and covered any flatness with energy and charm. The backdrop being an all white American Flag, regularly had projections of various photos from the times being spoken of.
The performance was tight. Director, Leonard Foglia kept things moving along and visually as interesting as possible in a one-man show. The set, by Allen Moyer, was completely adequate. Ditto for the lighting design, by Brian Nason and the costume design, by Jane Greenwood. This show isn’t a designer’s dream, I would imagine. It was all fine. It really comes down to the story (again, I say story, not script), the storyteller and the director. All are successful.
Every High School or College student should be so lucky to see this show, starring Mr. Fishburne, certainly; another skilled and passionate actor, possibly. Theatre is an amazing tool to educate. This show is a perfect example of that. I left feeling inspired and patriotic… I left feeling that one person does have the power to make a difference and inspire change.
The play ends beautifully with the words of Langston Hughes: “Oh, let America be America again. The land that has never been yet, and yet must be…” Just go see it.
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave. Westwood.
8 pm Tuesdays to Fridays, 3 and 8 pm
Saturdays, 2 and 7 pm Sundays
Ends Aug. 8th $65 to $85. (look for discount tickets!)
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.