It takes a fine actor to successfully perform a one-man show. The ability to learn almost two hours worth of lines is one thing, but to command an audience on your own is a daunting task. Laurence Fishburne has a long table, some chairs, and very few props at his disposal but they weren’t necessary. He alone was successfully able to tell the history of Thurgood Marshall with charm and power.
Everyone knows at least part of Marshall’s story as the first black Supreme Court Justice, but I imagine few know what a rich sense of humor he had. The play, written by George Stevens Jr., expertly paces the show with running jokes and stories that add to a deeper look at the man. This isn’t a lecture but a time for stories and history.
The 100 minutes fly by because of how well paced every moment is. There are a small break in the action when Fishburne—while still in character—mocks two people returning to their seats in the third row. Aside from that poor interruption, having the live audience was a treat. Fishburne responds to their laughter and when he performs a really powerful moment, like reading from the Constitution, it was like everyone was holding their breath.
Thurgood Marshall maintains a difficult balance of always being the smartest man in the room, but never letting that make him unapproachable. His warm presence and genuine belief towards justice made him the perfect subject for a show like this.
Like most HBO DVDs, this one is extremely bare. Not a single bonus feature is on the disc. That’s too bad, because I heard a great interview with Fishburne on KCRW’s The Treatment talking about this role. He’s very articulate about “Thurgood” and a good interview would have been a great companion to the excellent show.
Film: 4.5 Yaps