Review: ‘Thurgood,’ Presented by the Public

“Oh, let America be America again,” says Thurgood Marshall, quoting a line from his friend Langston Hughes’ poem, at the climax of Thurgood. The solo performance, written by George Stevens Jr., is being encored by the Public Theater of San Antonio in celebration of Black History Month.

The play is set at Howard University, where Marshall earned his law degree, when he returned years later to deliver a commencement speech. What follows is a history of civil rights that reminds us of how far we’ve come…and how far we have yet to go.

Marc Pouhé plays the late judge, and he has an appropriately commanding presence. You can viscerally feel the passion in his words as he describes the years of injustice that Marshall railed against. From the early days of subservience to his passionate battle against racism, Thurgood covers it all in this 95-minute production, helmed by Vincent Hardy.

It’s a tribute to both the actor and his director that it’s so compelling, considering that it’s shot with a single camera that never moves. Perhaps that was Hardy’s intention. If you were a student sitting in the lecture hall and watching him, this is how it would look.

Details about Marshall’s early life are amusing. His fiery father was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and was often mistaken for a Caucasian. His family also had a penchant for such colorful names as Olive Branch and Fearless. In fact, Marshall’s original first name was spelled Thoroughgoode. As a rebellious youth in school, he shortened it because he was tired of writing all those letters.

Then he asks with a gut-punch, “How many of you’ve heard of Homer Adolph Plessy?” He’s referring, of course, to the landmark Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court case from 1896 that declared racial segregation constitutional. Thus begins the story of his activism and lifelong battle against inequality, even if it meant risking his life. And, of course, there was the equally landmark Brown v Board of Education of Topeka case that declared school segregation unconstitutional. Justice, almost 60 years later.

There are two more online dates to watch this riveting performance, Feb. 20 and 27. Get your tickets here.

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