A play of immense power and inspiration, ‘Thurgood’ is an autobiographical one man show about the life of the immeasurably influential Thurgood Marshall. The man himself is played masterfully by Eric Clausell and he sucks you in with his performance of both an audible storyteller and visually active pantomimer. He takes you from Thurgood’s first days as a young man growing up in Baltimore to his final days when he retired from the Supreme Court.
Clausell is almost interactive with the audience without actually being so. He looks into audience members’ faces and bores his eyes deep into theirs as surely the real Marshall did. The personality and humor is well defined, but when Marshall is in the court arguing his cases is when his performance really shines. Your eyes can’t look away as he rolls through the illogic of segregation with his fantastic rhetoric. His conviction of delivering justice upon those who wrong the law is paramount and comes through in the story of his life.
The show not only is a great story of a great man’s life, but also a solid lesson in civics as well. George Stevens Jr writes a script that delves into the motivations of Marshall, exploring the racial injustices he and all people of color were forced to endure on a daily basis. From the small personal slights to those that affected people’s lives, particularly Marshall’s very entrance into the University of Maryland law school. He works his way up to his most famous case, Brown v Board of Education, but by showing the journey towards that victory, it makes it all the more clear and triumphant.
His subsequent career fighting segregation and oppression during the heart of the civil rights movement is covered as well, including a humorous anecdote where he complains to Martin Luther King Jr that sending protesters to jail is less helpful than fighting the wrongful laws in the court. The build up to his appointment as a Supreme Court Judge is also fun to see, with Clausell’s impersonations of President Johnson and the great moment when he dons the robe and glasses to become Justice Marshall.
Clausell combines speech changes, body language, atmosphere with the audience, humor, and a diverse colorful life of a real American that many might not know much about into a show that makes one laugh, gape, time travel, cry, and think. Marshall was no doubt one of the most important Americans in the nation’s history, and seeing this play might not increase his much deserved fame a whole lot, but it’s a start.
Tacoma Broadway Center for the Performing Arts has many events year round including plays, ballet, symphony and opera. Be sure to check out their schedule here: www.broadwaycenter.org/events