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

Posted September 8, 2023 in Press Releases

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

(Cleveland, OH) 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 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 performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Additionally, an evening performance will be held on Sunday, September 10 at 6:30 PM.

Tickets start at $25. Student tickets are $15 (valid student ID required). Ohio Direction/EBT cardholders receive $5 admission to any performance (up to eight tickets). Military personnel and their immediate families receive 50% off tickets. Seniors may receive $10 off tickets. Groups of 20+ can save up to 30% on their purchase. Single tickets can be purchased by calling 216.241.6000. All tickets can be purchased by

Cleveland Play House’s 2023-2024 season also includes The Tempest (Sep. 20 – 30, 2034), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Oct. 21 – Nov. 12, 2023), Karamu House’s Black Nativity (Dec. 1 – 16, 2023), The Play That Goes Wrong (Feb. 10 – Mar. 3, 2024), Middletown (Feb. 21 – Mar. 2, 2024), Amadeus (Apr. 6 – 28, 2024), and In the Heights (May 11 – Jun. 9, 2024).


LESTER PURRY (Thurgood Marshall) most recently performed the role J.P. Madison in What I Learned in Paris. He performed the role of August Wilson in his one man show How I Learned What I Learned at The Edinburg Fringe Festival. He has performed in regional theatre across the country including a national tour as Othello in Othello, as Augustus Newcastle in The Darker Face of the Earth, and as Lester Mason in The Big White Fog, all with The Guthrie Theatre. A long time company member with Penumbra Theatre (where August Wilson was discovered), Purry has played the roles of Cory in Fences, Clay in Dutchman, Hambone in Two Trains Running, Lymon in The Piano Lesson (the production that Wilson said was the best he’d ever seen), Hedley in King Hedley II, and Booster in Jitney, to name a few. At Baltimore Center Stage, Purry was Marvell Thunder in Thunder Knocking on the Door, as well as King of the Hill in I Could Stop On a Dime. He played Lymon in The Piano Lesson, Scarus in Antony and Cleopatra, and Mordred in Camelot at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Purry performed at Philadelphia Theatre Company as Floyd Barton in Seven Guitars, at Arizona Theatre Company as Wolf in Two Trains Running, and at Portland Playhouse as Troy Maxson in Fences. He has also performed at Palm Beach Dramaworks and Los Angeles Performing Arts Center. He also played the role of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Children’s Theatre Company. He performed the role of Charles Grace in Fireflies at South Coast Repertory Theatre and as Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood at Geva Theatre Center, Portland Playhouse and Penumbra Theatre.

GREG WHITE (understudy for Thurgood Marshall) has performed at several theatres in Greater Cleveland, including Karamu House, Dobama Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, the Beck Center, and Cleveland Public Theatre. For the past three summers, he has portrayed the characters of Carl B. Stokes and Jessie Owens for the Historical Gateway Corporation’s Take-A-Hike program, a tour through Cleveland to hear the story of these historical figures. Regional: Dominique Morriseau’s Sunset Baby (Kenyatta) at Dobama Theatre; Voodoo Macbeth (Banquo), Death of a Salesman (Will Loman), and Water by the Spoonful at Ensemble Theatre. In 2018, he was recognized as Best Actor in Scene Magazine for his performance in Thurgood and for Superior Achievement by the Cleveland Critics Circle for his performance of Chris Christopherson in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christy.

GEORGE STEVENS, JR. (Playwright) is the founder of the American Film Institute and a writer, director, and producer. 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. FILM: The Thin Red Line; George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey; John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums; The Diary of Anne Frank. Television: Separate But Equal (Sidney Poitier, Burt Lancaster), The Murder of Mary Phagan (Jack Lemmon, Peter Gallagher, Kevin Spacey), The Kennedy Center Honors (1978 – 2007), The American Film Institute Life Achievement Awards (1973 – 1998), America’s Millennium, D-Day to Berlin. Alfred A. Knopf recently published his book, Conversations With the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Awards include eight awards from the Writers Guild of America, two George Foster Peabody Awards, and two Emmys.

LOU BELLAMY (Director) is the founder and artistic director emeritus of Penumbra Theatre. During his forty-three year tenure, Penumbra evolved into one of America’s premier theaters dedicated to dramatic exploration of the African American experience. Under his leadership, Penumbra grew to be the largest theater of its kind in America and has produced over 40 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production. Bellamy and Penumbra are proud to have produced more of Mr. Wilson’s plays than any theater in the world. Bellamy is an OBIE Award-winning director, an accomplished actor, and for 38 years was appointed as an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Mr. Bellamy most recently directed Penumbra’s production of What I Learned in Paris. Directing credits outside of Penumbra include plays at Cleveland Playhouse, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, South Coast Repertory, Arizona Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Signature Theatre, Guthrie Theater, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Geva Theatre, Kansas City Repertory, Ensemble Theatre, Minneapolis Childrens’ Theatre, Gem Theater, Round House, Portland Playhouse, Logan Festival of Solo, and Hartford Stage.

VICKI SMITH (Scenic Designer) returns to CPH where she designed Steel Magnolias, Radio Golf, Raisin in the Sun, Dream a Little Dream, Dinner Party, Dirty Blond, Guardsman, Emancipation of Valet de Chambre, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Russian Romance, Dracula, Diary of Ann Frank, Oleanna, African Company Presents Richard III. REGIONAL: Children’s Theatre Company, South Coast Repertory Theatre, Penumbra Theatre Company, Denver Center Theatre Company, Geva Theatre Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Vigszinhas and Nemseti Szinhas (Hungary), and Seattle Repertory Theatre. AWARDS: Times Newspaper’s Theatre Tribute – Raisin in the Sun; Bay Area Critics Award – Kite Runner, Execution of Justice; Dramalogue Award – Cyrano; Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards – Mariela in the Desert, Plainsong, Pierre; I’m Not Rapaport; Prague Quadrennial Design Exposition

DON DARNUTZER (Lighting Designer) has designed 15 shows for Cleveland Play House including Dream A Little Dream, Touch the Names, and Radio Golf. Broadway: It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues. Off-Broadway: Hank Williams: Lost Highway; The Immigrant; Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America. Regional: Guthrie Theatre, The Denver Center Theater Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Shakespeare Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Alley Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Arena Stage, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, The Old Globe Theater, The Alley Theater, Geffen Playhouse, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Mark Taper Forum, Geva Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Portland Opera, New Orleans Opera, Florentine Opera, Israeli Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Central City Opera, San Antonio Festival, Atlanta Opera.

JUSTIN ELLINGTON (Sound Designer) is making his Cleveland Playhouse debut. Broadway: The Cottage, Ohio State Murders, Topdog/Underdog, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Was Enuff, Clyde's, Pass Over, Other Desert Cities. Off Broadway: Hamlet (Shakespeare In The Park); Heroes Of The Fourth Turning, Corsicana (Playwrights Horizons); Pipeline (Lincoln Center); Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie (ArsNova); Merchant Of Venice (TFANA). Regional: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2, &3), Until The Flood (Goodman Theater), Jitney, King Hedley (Alliance Theater); The American Clock (The Old Vic), As You Like It (Stratford Shakespeare Festival), Comedy Of Errors (Oregon Shakespeare Festival).

RASEAN DAVONTÉ JOHNSON (Projections Designer) is delighted to be working with Cleveland Play House. A Columbus native, Johnson has had the opportunity to locally work with institutions such as Shadowbox Live and The Ohio State University. His regional work includes projects with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, South Chicago Dance Company, Chicago Opera Theatre, Toledo Opera, Cleveland Playhouse, Indiana Rep, The Public Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, Hartford Stage, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Opera, Manual Cinema, and internationally with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Scotland), B-Floor Theatre (Thailand), and the Ningbo Song and Dance Company (China). Additionally his installation work has been seen at the Yale Art Gallery, The Bay Street Theatre, The Bridgeport Film Festival, the Logan Center for the Arts, and the Columbus International Film Festival. BA The Ohio State University, MFA Yale School of

DAVID LEVINE (Stage Manager) is a lifelong Oregonian who last was in Ohio in 1991 as the PR director for the Columbus Horizon basketball team of the now-defunct CBA. Recent stage management credits in Portland include: In the Name of Forgotten Women at CoHo Productions; The Evolve Experience with The Red Door Project; and Thurgood, What I Learned in Paris, and Great Wide Open at Portland Playhouse.

TIMOTHY TOOTHMAN (Stage Manager) is pleased to rejoin Lou Bellamy and Lester Purry in Thurgood, which they originally created at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York in the Fall of 2018. A member of Actors’ Equity Association since 1974, Mr. Toothman recently retired after 15 years as a Company Stage Manager and Artistic Associate to the Artistic Director at Arizona Theatre Company in Tucson and Phoenix. He has stage managed at numerous regional theatres including Geva Theatre Center, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and San Jose Repertory Theatre. He spent five years managing a national touring theatre company of deaf and hearing actors, and seven years as a Program Director and Grants Funding Officer for performing arts programs and organizations for the Maryland State Arts Council and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.

MARK CUDDY (Interim Artistic Director) joined Cleveland Play House in July 2022. He served as Artistic Director of Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY for 27 years. He led Geva through a renaissance of artistic and institutional growth with a diverse repertory, topflight artists, wide-reaching educational programs and a commitment to new play development. Cuddy is a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Rochester Fringe Festival that just concluded its fourth year, and served on the Board of Directors of the only national service organization for non-profit theatres, Theatre Communications Group. As a director, Cuddy is known for his productions of musicals, contemporary comedies and premieres. He also directed the CPH/Geva co-production of Clybourne Park. His Geva productions include Once, The Humans, Ring of Fire, Good People, To Kill a Mockingbird, You Can't Take it With You, Superior Donuts, A Midsummer Night’s Dream co-directed with Skip Greer, and Company, as well as his adaptation of A Christmas Carol with music and lyrics by Gregg Coffin. Among his many other Geva credits are The Music Man, Sweeney Todd, Fences, Five Course Love, A Christmas Story, and Pride and Prejudice (co-adaptor), and the world premieres of Convenience (musical) by Gregg Coffin, Theophilus North by Matthew Burnett from Thornton Wilder (also at Arena Stage), Splitting Infinity by Jamie Pachino, Famous Orpheus by Oyamo (choreography by Garth Fagan), House and Garden by Alan Ayckbourn (East Coast premiere), and That Was Then (American premiere). Cuddy has also served as Artistic Director of Sacramento Theatre Company, Producing Director of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and on the directing staff of the Denver Center Theatre Company. He has served on the review panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. He received his B.A. in Theatre/Honors from the University of Massachusetts where he was a Commonwealth Scholar.

RACHEL L. FINK (Managing Director) is thrilled to be returning home to Northeast Ohio after 25 years. Her childhood was filled with Cleveland arts experiences – from art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art to performing with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus to acting classes at the Cleveland Play House, in addition to many offerings through the Cleveland Heights – University Heights School District. It was at Heights High that Rachel’s passion for arts access, social justice, and inclusive, equitable practices was ignited. She carried those values with her as she enrolled at Case Western Reserve University, where an astute professor introduced her to the field of arts administration, and she hasn’t turned back since. The experience at Case led to an internship at the Cleveland Play House, followed by earning an MFA in Theater Management at the Yale School of Drama (now the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale).

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