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Laurence Fishburne essays Thurgood Marshall

July 3, 2010 |  8:15 am

LF The first thing you notice is the assured bearing and the deep, authoritative voice (this guy did play Morpheus, after all). Then the judicious observations, the strategic dropping of a timely anecdote, the eyes that calmly take your measure, like a barrister scanning a thick stack of legal briefs.

Laurence Fishburne isn't a lawyer, but he’ll be playing one this summer in his one-man show “Thurgood” at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

Of course, calling Thurgood Marshall a lawyer is a bit like calling Jackie Robinson a ballplayer. Like Robinson, Marshall was not merely a legendary member of a famous nine-man team but a history-making figure in his own right. He made his name nationally as the civil rights attorney who successfully argued the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case. Then he went on to become the first African American to don the robes of a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

“This cat, he was too important not to play,” Fishburne said during a recent interview, sprawled in a booth at a Beverly Hills cigar club. Elaborating about what drew him to George Stevens Jr.’s bio-drama, the Oscar-nominated actor and star of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” said he considered it “quite a gift,” not only for the chance to play the towering title role but because of the game-changing events the play encompasses.

“Thurgood” arrives at the Geffen after successful runs on Broadway, where it earned the 49-year-old actor Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. There, the audience reportedly included Marshall's widow, current U.S. Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chief Justice John Roberts. Another attendee was Elena Kagan, a former law clerk for Marshall. Now herself a nominee for a seat on the nation’s highest court, Kagan last week was grilled by senators about her association with the liberal justice at her confirmation hearings last week.

For the full Arts & Books story, click here. 

Photo Credit: Joshua Roberts / For The Times.
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