DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
These words, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, were read aloud in Smith Wilkes Hall near the beginning of the Brown Bag discussion last Thursday for the Chautauqua Theater Company’s final show this season: Thurgood.
Thurgood is a one-man show about the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. It debuts 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13 in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt.
At the Brown Bag, CTC Associate Artistic Director Stori Ayers explained the role of Thurgood in context of the season she and Artistic Director Andrew Borba planned and what this show means at a place like Chautauqua.
Ayers began by bringing up CTC’s first play of the season, Blood at the Root, a story based on the racial injustices of the Jena Six cases and how she saw it as a call to action echoed by Thurgood.
“Thurgood was one that we really felt would resonate with this audience, and really resonate with this season,” Ayers said. “It brings joy to close the season with a story about a man who really exemplifies activism in his work and in his life. It really humanizes him in a way that, for me, makes activism accessible — that you see him as a man, just like you and I, and not something that’s special … but something that’s attainable and accessible for all of us.”
Brian Marable, the CTC guest artist portraying Marshall, has been doing professional theater for almost 30 years. He said this is the biggest undertaking of his career thus far.
“This is by far the hardest thing that I’ve ever done,” Marable said at the Brown Bag. “… It’s been difficult, but I love it. As people, we have to challenge ourselves. It’s coming after a time (where I couldn’t work and) your first project back is 60 pages and it’ll be a one-man show. You can’t say no, because you’re ready to go back to work.”
A one-man show based on a real person, the play leaves little room for error in terms of memorizing lines and specific points in time.
“I’ve always been really good with dialogue and lines,” Marable said. “This is the first role where I’ve had a lot of case law, names, dates, real dates (and) real cases. You can’t mess up the name because it’s a real person or the date, because that’s the date that it actually happened.”
Both Marable and director Steve Broadnax III found themselves learning more about Marshall preparing for this play than they ever did while in school.
“I did not know as much as I should have known,” Broadnax said at the Brown Bag. “I knew he was on the Supreme Court, and that was probably the extent that I understood about Thurgood, and (now) I’m understanding what he has contributed to my everyday life.”
Marable commented on the U.S. education system, and how some states’ curriculums are being amended to whitewash historical narratives.
“(This show) made me realize that there’s some subjects in education that are not touched on in our learning institutions that absolutely should be,” Marable said. “There’s no way that there shouldn’t be an entire section to learn about this man’s accomplishments. It’s a success story. It’s an all-American story to me. He continued to persist and push through for something that he knew was right and we’re all sitting here together today.”
Broadnax believed Marshall was ahead of his time than his contemporaries in seeing what the power of law can do and why legislation is the most important branch for change to happen.
“What is interesting (is that) our country’s … founders’ promise, we’re just holding to the promise: Equality for all equal justice under the law, so we asked for nothing that has not already been said,” Broadnax said. “He believed that change comes in the law; he often was quoted that he (thought) protests are street theater, but inevitably change is in the law.”
Learning the effect of Marshall on everyday life as a Black man in America has put things into perspective for Broadnax.
“I know what I stand for as a man of color,” Broadnax said. “I am a professor at a university. We are sitting here together integrated all because of this man that saw equality and used the law as a weapon to bring to form a more perfect union, which the Constitution says our country should be.”