Russell delivers masterful case in ‘Thurgood’

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MONTAE RUSSELL (Photo by Gail Manker)

If you were to roll back the clock, say 45 years, you would truly appreciate the saying, the more things change the more they stay the    same.  Although “Thurgood” chronicles the life on the first African-American associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the struggles he contested and won are now being dismantled.
Thurgood Marshall, a native of Baltimore, graduated from high school and enrolled in Lincoln University with the intention of becoming a dentist. However, an incident in a local movie house where he and other Lincoln students (including Langston Hughes) were to sit in the balcony became a turning point in his life, and the nation.
While it may be understandable to assume that “Thurgood” would be about the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, the play is really about what shaped Marshall to later become the man who would later integrate the highest court in the land.
To sell this one-man production, Homestead native Montae Russell had to reach deep into this actor’s bag and pull out all the stops for this 90-minute tour de force performance.
The play is set in the Howard University Law School Auditorium and Marshall is reminiscing as he shares his life story. As Marshall, Russell assumes his persona through more than five decades, moving from retired justice to an undergrad to a law school student to a young attorney itching to fight and dismantle segregation.
Russell conveys the wit and humor of the late Justice, and draws on the righteous indignation the Black men in America know all too well.
The high point comes when the arguments of Brown v. Board of Education are heard, Russell conjures the fire and brimstone conviction of Marshall while alternately assume the personae of the smoothest and highly successful white attorney John W. Davis.
Russell works hard and earns his standing ovation at the play’s conclusion and the audience gets a fascinating lesson in civics and history through the eyes of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  
“Thurgood” continues through April 7, at Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown. Tickets are $23-$55 (students and ages 26 and younger $15.75 with valid ID). For performance times call 412-316-1600 or http://www.ppt.org

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