Cleveland Play House’s ‘Thurgood’ is a stirring history lesson that we can all use
There are many purposes of theater. At various times we can be entertained, enlightened and energized as well as delighted. Currently on stage at Cleveland Play House is the one man show, George Stevens, Jr’s “Thurgood” directed by Lou Bellamy. The show stars Lester Purry who encompasses the wisdom, humor, stubbornness and grit of Thurgood Marshall, the man who contributed more to our nation’s concept of freedom than anyone in history.
The show originally premiered in 2006 at the Westport Country Playhouse and starred James Earl Jones and was directed by Leonard Foglia. The show moved to Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 30, 2008 starring Laurence Fishburne. This was followed by a TV production filmed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and starred Fishburne as well. It was described by the Baltimore Sun as “one of the most frank, informed and searing discussions of race you will ever see on TV.
From his dramatic entrance at a recreation of the Howard University stage, Thurgood Marshall (Lester Purry) commands your total and undivided attention. We witness the greatness of a true American hero who against all odds made his way through college, became an attorney, began an amazing political career and ended up as the first ever African American to be named a member of the United States Supreme Court.
As an attorney, Marshall is best known for his battle fought for civil rights as he led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In total he won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court. This led up to the landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education in which the doctrine of “separate but equal” segregation policies were declared to be unconstitutional as Thurgood was able to prove that while separate were far from being equal. When President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967, Marshall’s staunch liberal policies caused frequent dissent in a court full of conservative justices yet in many cases he prevailed.
Over the course of two hours (with intermission), we are treated to numerous heartfelt stories of his childhood, his battle to get an education and the undying support his family gave him in his quest. As a young attorney he encountered numerous out and out physical dangers as he fought for voting rights in the deep south. The stories are not without their humorous side and at times are hilariously told with perfect comic timing. In short, the show is a perfect balance of comedy and drama that is superbly enjoyable.
It is rare indeed to find a show as educationally beneficial, as full of heart and soul and as joyously entertaining as this production. You really should avail yourself of this rare treat of superb one man theater. Witness a part of history!
The Cleveland Play House production of “Thurgood” will be on stage in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio through October 1, 2023. For more information and tickets go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com or call (216) 241-6000.