Thurgood, a one-man-show by George Stevens, Jr., is playing at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney. The play is a about the late Supreme Court Justice and respected legal counsel for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was born in Baltimore and his family had been in Maryland for several generations. Much of his life is well known in this area, especially his greatest case, Brown vs. The Board of Education in the 1950s. He went on to fight injustice in the areas of voting rights, segregation in the military, and more. He was rewarded by John F. Kennedy by being given a Federal Judgeship. Later, he became the Solicitor General under Lyndon Johnson, who later nominated Marshall to become the first black Justice on the Supreme Court.
Some parts of Marshall’s life are better known that others; for instance, his friendship with Langston Hughes and the early death of his first wife, Buster, are vividly recreated on stage. His belief in the motto of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law,” was the guidepost of his life’s work.
The very talented Brian Anthony Wilson becomes Marshall for the ninety minutes he is on stage. We are transfixed by his power and warmth. He conveys the deep love the Justice had for his wife, Buster, and the pride he had in his children. The most revealing scene about not only the man, but also his work for Civil Rights during the 40s and 50s, is when the young lawyer goes down to Tennessee to fight another school board. He comes close to being lynched and, barely spared by the mob, almost winds up in jail on trumped-up charges. Wilson goes from bravery to fear to outrage flawlessly. The action went fast, and I was sorry when it was over. I wanted to know even more about this great man. Being the only person on stage is never an easy task, but Wilson is continually captivating.
Walter Dallas directed the show. He keeps the character at the center of our attention almost all the time, as projections of the historical background and, of course, the Supreme Court flash behind Marshall on a minimal set.
Paige Hathaway is responsible for the Scenic Design, which reflects the importance of the man and the Court. The lighting by Harold F. Burgess II spotlights Marshall in an unobtrusive fashion. Seth Gilbert did the costuming, keeping things in period and uncomplicated.
However, this play belongs to Marshall and Wilson, and they are beautifully paired.
No one should miss this production of Thurgood. It is too important to never forget Justice Marshall or the importance of his work.
Note: I have one request to Olney Theatre – please send complimentary tickets to the nine members of today’s Court. They could use the history lesson, or at least a reaffirmation of their own convictions.
Running Time: 90 Minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Thurgood plays through August 20, 2017 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center — 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets call (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.