If you enjoy seeing lawyers in action — and, really, who doesn’t? — check out two current productions that bring to life a recent high-profile case and one of the 20th century’s highest-profile attorneys.
Ferguson is now enjoying a limited engagement at Manhattan’s 30th Street Theater. This is a triumph of summarization — and much more.
Filmmaker Phelim McAleer, who directed Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism and FrackNation, has expanded into theater, thanks to this work. Beneath the banner “Truth Matters,” McAleer this time serves as playwright. He distilled 75 hours of grand-jury testimony, from 60 witnesses, related to Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The fact that Wilson is white and Brown was black triggered a national tornado of rage and launched Black Lives Matter.
McAleer’s one-hour, 28-minute, no-intermission script draws exclusively from verbal, physical, and recorded evidence presented to a St. Louis grand jury in 2014. The result is gripping: a cast of 13 highly talented New York actors emotionally and powerfully deliver the words that were uttered in that Missouri hearing room. Director Jerry Dixon draws especially strong work out of Renika Williams as eyewitness Ciara Jenkins and Cedric Benjamin as Brown’s best friend, Dorian Johnson.
Though initially a tad sluggish, this production soon tightens its hold as confident eyewitnesses to the August 9, 2014, shooting buckle under cross-examination. Things that they swear they saw, they ultimately concede that they only heard. Multiple people see the same actions on Canfield Drive and come away with totally different observations. Everyone seems to agree: Michael Brown never had his palms in the air, despite the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” narrative that the anti-police Left advanced for months.
Ferguson’s “living transcript” sizzles, thanks to a fine ensemble cast, simple but effective staging, and the actual, priceless words that grand jurors heard before unleashing a literal firestorm when they decided that Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting was justified. How they reached that world-famous conclusion is worth discovering through November 5 at the 30th Street Theater.
The silver-tongued Thurgood Marshall must remain mute in a suburban Connecticut courtroom and merely whisper legal stage cues to his co-counsel in the case.
If you prefer lawyers in two dimensions, rather than three, you can do no better these days than to see Marshall, the superb film about the early career of Thurgood Marshall, when he served the NAACP, long before he joined the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. It stars Chadwick Boseman in the title role of this true story. He mesmerizingly captures Marshall’s intellect, bravado, and moral and physical courage. Once again, Boseman’s craft and range shine. In recent years, he earned kudos for brilliantly portraying James Brown in Get on Up and Jackie Robinson in 42. Alas, and inexplicably, Boseman scored zero Oscar, Golden Globe, or Screen Actors Guild recognition for those breathtaking performances.
In Marshall, Boseman and a reluctantly recruited Jewish attorney named Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad) defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) accused of raping his white-socialite employer (Kate Hudson). Marshall’s dramatic locomotive is the fact that the silver-tongued Thurgood Marshall must remain mute in a suburban Connecticut courtroom and merely whisper legal stage cues to his co-counsel in the case, an insurance-defense lawyer who knows zippo about criminal law.
This beautifully acted, gorgeously shot, and highly compelling film features a toe-tapping 1940s jazz soundtrack, and even some highly elegant costumes. Keep a close eye on Marshall’s tie bars, which ought to be on sale in theater lobbies, near the popcorn and Junior Mints.
This production’s only flaw is its title. Marshall. That could be about a U.S. marshal. Or Marshall Mathers III (aka Academy Award winner Eminem). Or perhaps Peter Marshall, the host of the legendary and hilarious 1970s game show The Hollywood Squares. (As it happens, the 91-year-old TV personality was born Ralph Pierre LaCock.) But there is only one Thurgood. That should have been the film’s title.
Those who christen films in Tinseltown clearly are fast asleep in their screening rooms. Will Farrell and Amy Poehler’s summer comedy about parents who establish a home-based casino to pay their college-bound daughter’s tuition should have been called The House Always Wins. Instead, Warner Bros. called it The House. ZZZZZZzzzzzz. No surprise, The House went pfffffft at the domestic box office, earning a mere $25 million. That title leapt off of theater marquees like a flake of old paint dislodged by a light breeze. Speaking of lawyers, Farrell and Poehler should sue Warner Bros. for marketing malpractice.