Almost two years to the day that it first opened at the Illusion Theater, “Thurgood” returns to downtown Minneapolis at the Illusion Theater.

The one-man play tells the story of civil rights leader Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Now retired, Justice Marshall returns to his alma mater, Howard University, to give a speech. During his speech he shares pivotal stories from his life that lead him to become the activist, lawyer and man he is today.

After closing in 2015, the show went on a statewide tour.

Now, as it returns to the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, Twin Cities actor James Craven takes on the role of Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Before the show opens, Craven spoke about the show’s relevance in today’s world and what he hopes audiences will come away with.

(credit: Lauren B Photography)

So, the show first opened at the Illusion Theater two years ago. Then, it went on tour throughout the entire state. Tell me, why do you think this story has continued to captivate audiences for over two years?

Craven: I believe we, as a nation, are in the middle of a constitutional crisis; lit ablaze by racists that wish to drag the nation back to the Jim Crow days or worse. Art (theater/dance/painting and sculpture) is the tool used by mankind to look deep into the human condition and evaluate the path we’re on. This play looks back, specifically at a man and a time that reflects clearly, where we are today. I believe that’s what captivates people.

You sort of allude to it when you discuss the play’s relevancy, but, more specifically, how do you think the struggles Justice Marshall discusses relate to the struggles we see for many in today’s society?

Craven: With the re-ascension of fascist political ambitions in the form of Trumpism as “normal,” social upheaval and change, the America Justice Marshall and NAACP fought in 1935 is akin to the America we’re experiencing now. Racially motivated murder and lynching take place daily and barely an eye is batted. America is re-seeing itself ugly again. The struggle today is to re-right our ship.

I don’t think you’re alone in your desire to seek change in our current society. So, with other leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, why is it important to continue to share this story of Justice Thurgood Marshall?

Craven: History is our map forward. Historical giants, like Thurgood, are the magnifiers by which we study that map.

I always find it fascinating when people don’t lookback to history to learn things about the present. Moving on to a bit of a different subject, tell me, what is the most challenging thing about this production?

Craven: Memorizing 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue. That, and keeping it engaging and moving.

That would be very challenging to not have another actor to bounce energy and ideas off of! On the flip side, what is your favorite scene/moment in the play?

Craven: The Langston Hughes poem.

Finally, after all we’ve spoken about the relevancy of the show, what is the message you hope audiences take away from this production?

Craven: Keep fighting for the best America we can be.

Thurgood” opens March 9 and runs through March 19. Tickets cost $27 – $35. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Illusion Theater online.