Carol Rosegg
Melissa Rose Bernardo
May 13, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

There’s no denying that Thurgood feels like a history lesson. But that’s meant as a compliment — truly, it is. That’s precisely how first-time playwright (and American Film Institute founder) George Stevens Jr. sets up this biographical sketch of U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall — as if we are seated at Howard University, where distinguished alumnus Marshall has returned to deliver a lecture. It will be engaging, amusing, eminently quotable, and brief enough to allow for a spirited after-class discussion over pizza and beer at a favorite off-campus hangout. Hair appropriately grayed and broad shoulders hunched to age himself a few years, Laurence Fishburne certainly commands our attention from his heartily applauded entrance. If his Marshall tends to speak in platitudes, at least they’re memorable ones: ”The law is a weapon if you know how to use it.” ”A lawyer who is not a social engineer is a social parasite.” As he relates Marshall’s well-known triumphs (Brown v. Board of Education) and lesser-known tragedies (the loss of his wife), Fishburne never loses our attention. And though he’s an actor we admire, he’s not an actor we entirely engage with — his storytelling abilities only take us so far. So, however, does Stevens’ play. As interesting as it is, it’s not something you’ll find yourself discussing over post-show refreshments. Fortunately, you won’t be tested on the material. (Tickets: or 212-239-6200) B

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