CPH Kicks Off 2023-2024 Season With The Tour-De-Force Play, THURGOOD!


Cleveland Play House, Posted September27th 2023

Theatre legend Lou Bellamy directs an inspiring biographical story about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to spearhead Cleveland Play House’s 108th season.

Cleveland Play House launches its 108th season with Thurgood, written by George Stevens, Jr., a tour-de-force biographical play about the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American appointed to the highest court in America. Directed by legendary theatre producer Lou Bellamy and starring film, TV, and regional theatre veteran Lester Purry, this powerful drama runs from September 9 through October 1, 2023, at the Allen Theatre in the heart of Playhouse Square. Tickets are available at clevelandplayhouse.com or by calling (216) 241-6000.

Armed with the US Constitution, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall devoted his life to championing justice and equality for all people. The Story of “Mr. Civil Rights,” this biographical play spans his remarkable 58-year career while highlighting his warmth and sharp wit. A powerful tour-de-force about Marshall’s transformative journey from his early days as a young lawyer upending the landmark “separate but equal” decision to his time serving on the highest court in the nation. An inspiring tribute to a real American hero who embodied courage, integrity, and determination.

Thurgood premiered in 2006 at the Westport Country Playhouse, starring James Earl Jones. The play received its Broadway premiere at the Booth Theatre in 2008, starring Laurence Fishburne. In 2011, HBO screened a filmed version of the play which Fishburne had performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Award-winning director Lou Bellamy, Founding Artistic Director of St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre Company, returns to Cleveland Play House where he directed the 2012 production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf. He directs theatre veteran Lester Purry in the titular role, which also appeared at Rochester, NY’s Geva Theatre in 2018 and at Portland Playhouse in 2022.


Lou Bellamy says, “It is amazing, you sit down and you begin to watch the show – and it’s entertaining – and then after about 40 minutes, it’s only one person doing this! It’s a remarkable feat!”

Playwright George Stevens, Jr’s interest in Thurgood Marshall began with a miniseries he wrote and directed, Separate But Equal, the story of the Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation case on which Marshall was the lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Thurgood is his first play.

Director Lou Bellamy says, “I’ve enjoyed [this play] so much; especially [in recent months] with the microscope being on the Supreme Court…we are learning real life consequences. These brilliant legal minds are still human beings. We get to see Thurgood in his life, and the way his life effects his legal opinions. It should give us a context to look our lives today.”

Born Thoroughgood Marshall in 1908 in Baltimore, MD, a seven-year-old Marshall shortened his name to “Thurgood” in second grade. A staunch proponent of education, he graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1930 and received a law degree from Howard University in 1933. Shortly after beginning his private practice in Baltimore, he began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and then won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson. Marshall committed his practice to civil cases that contradicted the United States Constitution, notably the Fourteenth Amendment. A post-Civil War provision adopted on July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Amendments that extended liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to formerly enslaved people. Another provision of the Amendment was the clause ensuring that “[no] state [would] 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 civil rights instantly applied to both the federal and state governments – to all people.


Marshall’s practice successfully argued a series of US Supreme Court civil right cases including, Smith v. Allwright: overthrowing the South’s “white primary” (1944), as well as Shelley v. Kraemer, striking down legality of racially restrictive covenants (1948), among many other. Marshall’s biggest victory, the landmark 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, demolished the legal basis for segregation in America. Marshall was later appointed as a federal judge in Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City (1961), as U.S. Solicitor General (1965), and then elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1967).

Bellamy’s vision for CPH’s production of Thurgood utilizes snapshots of Marshall’s life as well as arresting headlines and imagery from the civil rights movement. The design team includes scenic design by Vicki Smith, costume design by Casey McNamara, lighting design by Don Darnutzer, projections design by Rasean Davonte Johnson, and sound design by Justin Ellington.

KeyBank is the 2023-2024 season sponsor for Cleveland Play House.

Thurgood is sponsored in part by BakerHostetler. Running from September 9 through October 1, 2023, in Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre, evening performances of Thurgood are held Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 PM; and on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 PM. Matinee

More information about THURGOOD here.

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