Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: "Thurgood" at Pittsburgh Public Theater

Pittsburgh Public Theater continues its Made In America series with a one-person, 90 minute play about a significant American, Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to become part of the U.S. Supreme Court. This respectful production certainly makes clear why we should admire and honor the man. Pittsburgh-born actor Montae Russell, who has major credits in his career, gives an energetic performance. But George Stevens Jr.’s script, simply titled Thurgood, whose simplicity mirrors the result, looks and sounds most like a lecture with very little going for it as theatre. 

We learn about many events on Marshall’s life, most often focusing on what happened in public, dwelling on how he confronted segregation and racism. Stevens has him offering intelligent insights and laudable opinions with touches of light humor, but most come across as judge-like pronouncements, rather than something personal. There are hints about Marshall’s private life; they remain undeveloped, while we get almost nothing of emotional weight.  

Director Ted Pappas has Russell dynamically moving around the stage in a variety of postures, sometimes carrying a cane to represent aging, other times vigorously striding and pacing to imply younger days.  Pappas and his designer also have tried to enhance the experience with colorful projections and lively sound cues. But the interior, the soul of the man, does not emerge. Director and performer have not found ways to give Marshall memorable personality.    

Russell capably delivers the information Stevens wants to bring out but the actor stays stuck with a script which lacks drama, even though many events in Marshall’s life sound dramatic. Russell most often sounds as if declaiming rather than speaking personally, not showing nearly enough significant feelings.
I can’t help wondering how Marshall came across in real life to his colleagues, his friends, his children. Here he stands alone, needing more.

Thurgood continues through April 7th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave. downtown.  412/- 316-1600  and


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