Last month, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were so desperately searching for a chink in Kagan's armor (and coming up short) that they resorted to maligning her former mentor, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. According to Senators Sessions, Grassley, and Cornyn, he was a "judicial activist" with a troubling record on the bench who warranted suspicion and re-examination.
Serendipitously, Laurence Fishburne's reprisal of Justice Marshall in the play Thurgood opened at the Kennedy Center (and now the Geffen Playhouse) just days after the Kagan confirmation hearings. The 95-minute monologue about Marshall takes the audience from Baltimore to the Supreme Court, filling out his life as civil rights hero and American icon.
David Savage of the LA Times applauds Fishburne for taking on the role and fully inhabiting the larger-than-life persona: "Though Fishburne is alone on the stage, he brings forth a cast of fascinating characters who crossed paths with Marshall."
Critic Charles McNulty uses the play to take aim at those who would suggest Supreme Court decisions must be made without personal influence:
The play is indeed dominated by its subject -- a courageously brilliant legal advocate and a likable if flawed human being. Short on psychology, the work is nonetheless deeply personal. And anyone who insists that a good judge is one who completely divorces subjective experience from abstract analysis should be required to see "Thurgood," as it's clearly not possible to partition Marshall's biography from his understanding of justice as an inclusive and unceasing struggle for equality.
On a more practical level, NY Times reviewer Zachary Pincus-Roth notes that Fishburne and Marshall were well-suited for each other. He compares the role of Marshall to the other authoritative, moral leader characters that Fishburne has played in his career: "Marshall is akin to Mr. Fishburne's many mentor-teacher figure roles, among them Furious Styles in 'Boyz N the Hood' and Morpheus in the 'Matrix' movies." Inversely, Pincus-Roth also calls attention to Marshall's ability to perform before an audience, which lent itself well to the research and writing of the play: "Marshall, a world-class raconteur, would adapt his speaking style to his audience -- exaggerating his drawl while in Southern courtrooms, for instance."
The role has touched Fishburne tremendously. In an interview with the OC Register, the actor talks about the Jim Crow signs he has in his dressing room: "It's to remind me of where we've come from, and that this is a part of our history. It's not something we should be ashamed of any more. The only way to do that is to actually look at it and say, "This is what we did to each other."
Thurgood was written by George Stevens, Jr., directed by Leonard Foglia, and stars Laurence Fishburne. The play runs at the Geffen Playhouse until Sunday, August 8.
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