Thursday, May 01, 2008

Critics Render Verdicts On Thurgood

Critics Render Verdicts On Thurgood

Last evening, Thurgood -- the one-hander play about America's 96th Supreme Court Justice by George Stevens, Jr. that stars Laurence Fishburne in the title role -- opened at Broadway's Booth Theatre with Leonard Foglia at the helm. Critics have made their decisions on the work known.

Praising Fishburne as someone "who knows how to burnish a piece of exposition until it shines," Marilyn Stasio of Variety is largely on the side of the effort: "Fishburne is such an imposing stage presence (even hunched over a cane, he exudes strength) that it's a bit of a shock to register the full range and texture of that narrative voice. Folksy like a fox, he adopts an avuncular tone that shouldn't fool us chickens -- but does, all the same -- into following him wherever he leads this tale."

Proclaiming that "all bio-dramas should be as vivid and entertaining as Thurgood," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News offers three out of five stars: "Not every transition is graceful, but the 90-minute show moves smoothly enough as directed by Leonard Foglia.... Fishburne is magnetic as Marshall.... He captures the justice's drive and everyday essence as well as his wry -- if sometimes crass -- wit."

Calling the play "a predictable but engrossing tour of Marshall's accomplishments," Eric Grode of The New York Sun is mixed: "Mr. Foglia succumbs to every trapping of tasteful biography, from obvious sound effects to Elaine J. McCarthy's sepia-toned projections to the applause-triggering punch lines that accompany each legal victory.... Luckily, Mr. Fishburne is able to supply some of the missing complexities. He holds back the full depths of his velvety baritone at first, letting the unseasoned young lawyer grow into his own voice as his confidence grows.... There's a sensual intensity to the way he applies his girth, his intelligence, and his piercing moral clarity to push the law in the right direction."

Rendering Thurgood as a "no-frills documentary in the first person, essentially an opportunity to watch a movie star deliver a history lecture," Charles Isherwood of The New York Times offers a mixed verdict, saying the show "is surprisingly absorbing, at times even stirring.... [Y]ou may find this superficially dry evening of theater as restorative as a long soak in a bubble bath.... Thurgood is not distinguished by psychological depth or dramatic intensity, although it has been given a tasteful production by the director, Leonard Foglia.... The role does not allow Mr. Fishburne to draw deeply on his rich resources as an actor, even if it requires significant stamina."

Concluding that "Quite simply, a little less might have meant a lot more," New York Post's Clive Barnes renders two-and-a-half out of four stars: "through Stevens' one-man play and Fishburne's carefully layered, wholly convincing performance, I discovered a great deal more about that solitary, benignly wise figure who featured at the time in dozens of photographs of the nation's Supreme Court.... Most of what he has to tell is admirable yet predictable.... [W]ile it's undoubtedly a triumph for Fishburne, there is only one character, one tone, and neither tension nor climax."

Noting "the major limitations and the good intentions in the solo biography," Newsday's Linda Winer is even more judgmental: "Given his credentials and those of director Leonard Foglia ... we keep hoping for something more theatrical and original than this standard-issue, broad-stroke, one-man bio.... Fishburne ... also stumbled over the lines a few times at Friday's preview. Considering the amount of repetition in the storytelling, who could blame him?"

With can only be judged as a somewhat disappointing critical response, will the box office for Thurgood be able to hang on the the 60%+ capacity it's currently attracting during its limited run? We'll have to wait for the audiences to be the final judge.

I'll be taking in a performance shortly and will offer my own verdict shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Fishburne Marshalls In Broadway Opening Night For Thurgood (April 30, 2008)
36 Down, 3 To Go (April 12, 2008)
Seafarer Set To Sail Out Of Broadway Berth (January 30, 2008)

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