Thurgood and Breath & Imagination

Montae Russell
Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater
George Stevens, Jr.'s play Thurgood delivers on its title: it is a one-man presentation of the life of Thurgood Marshall. There is good reason to fashion a play around such a historic figure, as Marshall was the grandson of a slave who, representing the NAACP, successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court, and became a Supreme Court justice himself. In the Pittsburgh Public Theater production, Montae Russell plays Marshall.

Though aided by effective staging, including lively projections (Set Design by James Noone, Lighting by Phil Monat, Sound by Zach Moore), the play, unfortunately, feels too much like the history lesson it is. Russell projects an appealing personality, moving about the stage and engaging the audience with eagerness. But, laid out as an "and then this happened" telling, it's not enough to make this more than an enjoyable but rather dry educational experience (a letdown after the Public's invigorating 1776).

Thurgood at the O'Reilly Theater through April 7. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit

Jubilant Sykes
Photo by Hartford Stage/T. Charles Erickson
Meanwhile, over at the City Theatre, a very effective musical dramatization of the life of (the early twentieth century opera singer you may not know) Roland Hayes is being presented, in Daniel Beatty's Breath & Imagination. Jubilant Sykes is powerful as he drives the story of the son of a slave, who rose to great success and acceptance because of his voice, yet never saw the end of discrimination.

From the moment we see Sykes, writhing on the floor in pain, we are in the story. Well supported by the glorious-voice Kecia Lewis as Hayes' mother, Sykes keeps the energy and our interest high, though the unneeded intermission temporarily breaks the spell he is weaving so tightly, and I'm not sure we get quite to the emotional level that was achieved in the first act.

Sykes is simply thrilling when he sings; he is perfectly cast as the man who, in his time, was completely unacceptable as a classical singer—except for his beautiful voice. In addition to the impressive support by Lewis, the extremely versatile and talented Tom Frey plays an assortment of roles, adding depth to this play, helping to make it a very rich experience.

David P. Gordon's scenic design is functional and well utilized, and Fabio Toblini's costuming is an important asset as well. Director Darko Tresnjak brings it together from all angles.

This fulfilling work raises Daniel Beatty cachet once again—making the upcoming Lincoln Center production of his Mr. Joy highly anticipated.

Breath & Imagination, a co-production with Hartford Stage of Connecticut, through March 31. Up next is Elaine Murphy's Little Gem.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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