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Marshall’s legacy: Legal giant takes the stage

🕐 4 min read

Thurgood

Jubliee Theatre

Through Feb. 26

Performances: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday,

3 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday

506 Main St.

Fort Worth 76102

817-338-4204

www.jubileetheatre.org/

Judicial history will take center stage at the Jubilee Theatre with its production of Thurgood. The one-man show stars Selmore Haines III and depicts the rise of Thurgood Marshall to be the first African-American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The play, written by George Stevens Jr., is being directed by Harry Parker, professor and chairman of Texas Christian University’s theater department. His last directorial effort with Jubilee was the 2012 production of Company by Stephen Sondheim.

“As an actor, it’s a great challenge. He was a great civil rights leader who gave 50 years to the law,” Haines said of portraying Marshall. “It’s an awesome and daunting task and privilege at this point in my career.”

Haines, 58, will be returning to the Jubilee stage. He most recently appeared in a revival of God’s Trombones in the spring of 2016. His other Jubilee performances include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Color Purple and Do You Hear What I Hear – A Christmas Musical.

Haines said he understands the historical significance of his performance, particularly to those who aren’t familiar with the complete story of Marshall. For example, he noted that it was not Marshall’s ambition at an early age to become a lawyer.

“He wanted to be a dentist,” Haines said. It was the poet and social activist Langston Hughes who “guided him in to the law. His law professor, Charles Hamilton Houston, made a big impact on his life.

“It’s fascinating to see all he did before he became a Supreme Court justice.”

Haines also noted that once Marshall became an attorney, it wasn’t his goal to become a judge.

Parker said his inspiration to tell the story of Marshall on stage was fueled by the book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner written by Gilbert King tells the story of four young black young men in Florida falsely accused of rape by a white girl in 1949. Marshall helped with their defense.

“It was true, and it was harrowing,” Parker said. “It opened my eyes and made me excited to tell the story of Thurgood Marshall again.”

Parker added that Marshall was a master when working such cases in the 1930 and 40s. He knew that winning was almost an impossibility in many cases, but he worked diligently nonetheless, setting up appeals, keeping those wrongfully accused because of their skin color from getting the death penalty.

And he was working for a better future for African-Americans.

“He was working to change people’s minds one at a time,” Parker said.

Haines said the biggest challenge in the role isn’t that it is a one-man show, though he did say that is a challenge. He said maintaining the constant connection with the audience is most critical.

“I have to maintain the energy and concentration to capture the audience for an hour and a half,” he said. “I have to make sure the story is received accurately.

“We’re not trying to mimic his mannerisms. It’s made for an actor to immerse himself in the story.”

Haines recalled memories from his youth that now inspire him as he prepares to tell the story.

“I have a vivid memory of my great-grandmother preparing to vote, laying out her clothes, her hat, gloves,” he said. “It was a very special thing for her. I didn’t realize at the time she didn’t always have that right.”

Haines said the story is important to young people of today of all races.

“You have the young African-American child who may not be aware of the struggle to get to where we are today,” he said. “For the white child, it’s important to just know the history of our country, that we have been a racially divided nation, that things weren’t always like they are now.”

Parker added that Thurgood, which opened on Broadway on 2008, is one of “a handful of shows that are never out of date.”

Haines said he and Parker immediately clicked working on the show. Parker, in fact, helped with much of the research on the title character.

“Harry Parker has been like Google with information about Thurgood,” Haines said. “I would have loved to have sat under him as a student in college.”

Parker had equally complimentary words for his star.

“It is critical to have that kind of chemistry, and I’m fortunate to have Selmore,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted. I’d never worked with Selmore before, but I picked him out of a group of great actors who auditioned for the role because he does have that special something to bring to this role. And we get along famously.”

Haines said this role is by far the most important and favorite he has ever played.

“It is the most challenging, most exciting, most intimidating, most alarming – and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I have to act the story believably and where it will be accepted positively,” he said.

“For some people, this will be it for seeing Thurgood Marshall. I have to make it a lasting impression.”

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