Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thurgood (The SOB Review)

Thurgood (The SOB Review) - Booth Theatre, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

As I've professed in this space many a time, I love history. Not necessarily because I'm particularly fond of what I've learned, but because of the sense of discovery in finding out the who, what, why and how for events that have changed the course of human existence.

My affinity for learning about our past came about by a stroke of luck back in the sixties during my second grade year, thanks to the classroom configuration my school used. It was at that time that my class shared a school room with first and third graders. Curiously, whenever the third graders were receiving their history lessons, I found myself sitting up and taking notice. In fact, I couldn't wait until the following school year when I, too, could take the class.

Of course, during that same decade, a gifted Baltimore attorney had risen to the top court in the United States. Thurgood Marshall was continuing to help shape the annals of our collective American experience just as he had in the early fifties when he overcame all expectations in successfully arguing the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education before the Supreme Court.

But in 1967, two years before I sat up and took notice of the concept of history itself, President Lyndon Johnson took notice and made history by appointing his then Solicitor General to the highest court as its first African American member; Marshall would go on to serve on the Supreme Court until two years before his death in 1993.

Now, fifteen years later -- as we approach the centenary of Marshall's birth -- a fairly powerful and ever thoughtful examination of this powerhouse attorney-turned-leading jurist has come to the Broadway stage. In the one-man show Thurgood, written by George Stevens, Jr. and directed by Leonard Foglia, Laurence Fishburne becomes Marshall in his twilight years lecturing before an assembly at Washington's Howard University about his many contributions to American jurisprudence.

The focus of Stevens' script is primarily devoted to Marshall's exposition over the key cases he's argued. While these personal anecdotes provide an often riveting array of the seemingly insurmountable and harrowing -- even life-threatening -- odds he faced, there are few insights into his personal life beyond scant references to meeting his first wife Vivian "Buster" Burey and her untimely death in 1955 -- which he concedes was devastating to him -- along with his subsequent marriage to Cecilia Suyat.

Fishburne expertly nails the demeanor of Thurgood Marshall, even resembling him at times. This fine actor lends a gentle sense of humor and gravitas to the man who arguably had the biggest hands-on impact in the battle for equality and civil rights among all Americans during the 20th Century. If there is a quibble with Fishburne's solo performance -- at least during the one I took in last Sunday afternoon -- it's that he frequently stumbles over his lines. Nevertheless, and more importantly, Fishburne captures the essence of Marshall and ensures that this American patriot will not soon be forgotten.

As George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As a student of history, I'm thrilled that this inspiring Thurgood is bringing together black and white audiences in one place not only to share in learning from our collective past, but also so that we'll never forget from whence we came.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
And The Tony Nominees Go To... (May 12, 2008)
Critics Render Verdicts On Thurgood (May 1, 2008)
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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At 17 May, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

It's interesting, I didn't even notice the flubbed lines. Ok, maybe I did once or twice, but I guess I forgot about them, I was so mesmerized by Laurence Fishburne, especially when he was sitting practically in front of me! I definitely agree that he captures Marshall's essence, and that it's an important story. I really hope his performance gets taped for PBS or something.

At 17 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, For better or worse, after taking in Saturday night's performance of The Country Girl in which Morgan Freeman was initially being derided for flubbing his lines, I was watching closely and it stuck with me into Sunday's performances. While I didn't detect any on the part of Freeman, I repeatedly heard many in Fishburne's performance. But I agree that he was pretty mesmerizing.


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