Monday, July 26, 2010

Laurence Fishburne in THURGOOD at The Geffen...

Angie and I saw THURGOOD with Larry Fishburne yesterday at The Geffen.  It officially opens on Tuesday so we saw the last preview.  Full house, standing O, of course.  It's a ninety-five minute piece with no intermission.  A complete one-person show on the professional life of Thurgood Marshall, the late Supreme Court Justice and liberal lion.

It's a good piece.  Devoid of sentimentality and very much an intellectual exercise but a very good piece of theatre.  Fishburne has already done it at The Kennedy Center (where I imagine it must have been seen by President Obama) and on Broadway.  Apparently he rehearsed it originally at The Geffen (Fishburn, naturally, lives in LA so it was probably done that way to make it convenient for him) and then moved it east.

Clearly, Fishburne is a trained stage actor.  I've seen movie stars on stage many times and usually they fade and diminish with the demands of the stage.  There have been exceptions...Gene Hackman was towering in Death and the Maiden, Hoffman was a tiger in Death of a Salesman, Jack Lemmon very much a stage actor in Long Day's Journey into Night, Pacino, of course, very watchable on stage in Richard III,   And I've seen what are essentially stage actors that do film work: James Earl Jones, Michael Moriarty, John Malkovich, Kevin Spacy, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellan, Brian Dennehy.  But most of the time when an actor that works primarily in film takes the stage, it's embarrassing.  Not so with Fishburne.

He has the voice and presence to do Thurgood.  He is at home on stage and doesn't look or feel the least bit out of his element.  This is a guy, after all, that tackled Othello.

The set design is most impressive in its simplicity.  A long, polished, wooden conference table, a few chairs, a backdrop of a huge, white plaster American flag upon which various images are shown, a beautiful, wooden, parquet floor.  And a ton of sound effects used to shepherd the audience from one notable event to the next.  I wish my director for Praying Small could see this piece...he'd finally see when its appropriate to use sound effects.  They were not just thrown in haphazardly to garner cheap laughs, but used sparingly and judiciously to actually move the play along.

Fishburne also does something very difficult to do when traversing a one-person piece.  He occasionally talks not just at the audience but to the audience.  He acknowledges their existence, so to speak.  He plays on the laughs.  He uses the laughs as a diving board to the next moment.  It doesn't sound hard, but trust me, having done a few, most notably Harry Truman in Give 'Em Hell, Harry, it is.

It didn't hurt that the audience seemed to be made up of the most politically liberal bunch of old folks (it was a matinee, after all) in all of Los Angeles.  He was most definitely preaching to the choir yesterday.

But the most impressive part of Mr. Fishburne's play was his command and ease of and on the stage.  One never gets the idea he's in water a little too deep for him.

It was a very good piece of theatre, not emotional, almost entirely intellectual and historically-driven, as one might expect from such a subject.  The language and paring down of certain landmark court decisions made simple by the presentation and writing (the script by George Stephens).  Clearly the creators and Fishburne himself went to lengths to avoid any mawkish emotion.  In the final analysis the entire piece appeared to be something The History Channel would be proud of.

And, as Monty Python used to say, on an entirely different subject, more pictures today, hopefully.  Bearded and clean-shaven pictures for the commercial agent.  New 'outfits.'

Overcast and unusually cool today in Los Angeles.  A break from perfect weather.  Doing rewrites on the new piece today, teaching a bit, taking a walk in Griffith Park, a good day.  Another good day.  I've come to rather enjoy good days.

See you tomorrow.