There was a bit of a lull in the seemingly endless schedule of meetings and panel discussions at the American Bar Association meeting in New York City Sunday afternoon. So it seemed like an opportune time to duck out and see "Thurgood," the one-man show starring Laurence Fishburne as the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in its last week of performances at the Booth Theatre. Turns out a lot of ABA attendees were doing the same. The ABA's Judicial Division was housed at the Marriott Marquis hotel nearby, so a lot of federal and state judges were spotted in the audience. Former Detroit mayor and former ABA president Dennis Archer was also in attendance.
And there, also in the audience, was none other than John Marshall, son of the justice. He was in town for the Thurgood Marshall Award dinner the night before, where the Individual Rights and Responsibilities gave the award to Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts. Turns out it was the second time Marshall had seen the play, and he said afterward that his mother Cissy had seen it three times, including once recently when Fishburne had the whole audience singing Happy Birthday to her. John Marshall, who serves as Virginia's Secretary of Public Safety, said he loves the play and Fishburne's portrayal of his father. "He captures him very well," said Marshall.
Indeed Fishburne does. Alternately mischievous and brooding, Fishburne's Marshall engaged the full-house audience in a riveting reminiscence of growing up in Baltimore, finding his calling at Howard University Law School, and bringing the civil rights battle into the courtroom. Fishburne is especially compelling when he tells how afraid he was that he had lost the case of Brown v. Board of Education. Seamlessly, Fishburne gradually ages before the audience's eyes, finally becoming the tired hero that America saw when Marshall retired in 1991. He died in 1993. The ABA-dominated audience gave Fishburne a standing ovation.