George Stevens Jr.’s award-winning play Thurgood is a unique and memorable experience. A single actor, Eric Clausell, appears alone on stage for almost two hours in an impressive portrayal of America’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Marshall’s accomplishments in the legal system, which include successfully arguing Brown v. Board of Education and heading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Through first-person accounts, Clausell brings those accomplishments to life on stage.
The show’s script is 45 pages long and is based on historical and biographical events. The lack of other actors on stage means that the play manifests as a series of non-linear stories told from Marshall’s perspective and addressed directly to audience members as if they are students in an auditorium hall at Howard University.
Clausell said the play’s presentation of Marshall’s life depicts who he really was — a fantastic storyteller with a great sense of humor.
“In a play, you can provide an audience with a piece of art that meaningfully encapsulates someone’s lived experience without getting bogged down in the minutia of an autobiographical book,” Clausell said. “There are books that are 400 pages long written about Thurgood Marshall. A play gets to cut to the chase and provide people with a sense of what was important about him as a person: his passions, his joy, his sense of duty, his sense of humor. All that can be brought to bear in this play about his life.”
The stories told in the play span from Marshall’s early childhood to his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1991, two years before his death. Clausell embodies Marshall’s changing demeanor — his voice, tone, posture, and gestures — throughout the different phases of his life.
In order to accomplish the huge challenge presented by this role, Clausell said had to think about how he could take on Marshall’s essence while staying true to himself.
“No one is ever going to believe that I’m Thurgood Marshall, so trying to pull that off would be ridiculous,” he said. “Instead, I’m embodying Thurgood Marshall in terms of my acting approach to the role. The stories told by Marshall are quintessentially stories about the African American struggle in the United States for civil rights; I’m an African American male, and although I didn’t live during the time that Thurgood did, this is essentially my story.”
Thurgood plays at the Broadway Center from February 23 to March 3. Tickets can be purchased online or through the box office at (253) 591-5894. A community dialogue on civil rights and justice will be held on Saturday, March 3 at 5 p.m. with actor Eric Clausell, director Brett Carr, and Broadway Center Executive Director David Fischer. The discussion is free and open to the public.