‘Like They Do in the Movies’ Review: Laurence Fishburne Widens His Lens

‘Like They Do in the Movies’ Review: Laurence Fishburne Widens His Lens

When Laurence Fishburne wants to get closer to audiences of his one-man show, he lowers himself into a deep squat near the lip of the stage. Hands clasped and knees spread wide, the actor — who has become an avatar of inscrutability during his half-century screen and stage career — seems to be trying to shrink himself down to life-size.

Fishburne’s indomitable presence is the muscle behind “Like They Do in the Movies,” which opened on Thursday night at the Perelman Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan. His vigor and gravitas are unwavering, even as Fishburne, the 62-year-old “Matrix” star, softens to reveal difficult details from his childhood and to portray others whose vulnerability made a personal impression.

Part memoir and part ethnography, the show opens with Fishburne, who played a schemer in the 2022 Broadway revival of “American Buffalo” and a Supreme Court justice in the 2008 one-man play “Thurgood,” as you’ve likely never seen him before: draped in sequins (the flowing black robes are credited to Jimi Gureje). Addressing the audience in griot fashion, Fishburne briskly sketches his early years, introducing his mother, Hattie, a charm-school matron turned abusive stage mom. Using the refrain “but more on that later,” he indicates open questions he’ll return to, including how his father fits into the picture.

These recollections have a clipped momentum, like listening to a celebrity narrate a tell-all at 1.5 speed. If the pacing makes him seem a bit guarded, it also serves a practical purpose: The production, written by Fishburne and crisply directed by Leonard Foglia, runs nearly two and half hours with an intermission. Greater economy would pack a more decisive punch, but the show rarely goes slack and Fishburne’s performance is thoroughly engrossing.

That’s especially true as he slips into the more familiar territory of playing other people, in a series of vividly drawn monologues book ended by his own reflections. The play’s title may suggest a tour through Fishburne’s own Hollywood résumé, which includes an Oscar-nominated turn as Ike Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” But here, Fishburne plays a truck packer for The New York Daily News, a Hurricane Katrina survivor and a homeless man who washes cars, among others.

Stalking Neil Patel’s sparse set — a stage with only a long table and a pair of chairs — Fishburne nimbly dons each persona with a keen and easy sensitivity. The assembly of character studies, mostly everyday New Yorker types, lacks an obvious sense of cohesiveness, though Fishburne himself emerges as the common thread.

“Like They Do in the Movies” is hard to categorize, and might have seemed like a vanity project were Fishburne not so plainly unselfconscious and willing to shine a light into his formative dark corners.

Drawing inspiration from rangy, multicharacter solo shows by Whoopi Goldberg and John Leguizamo, Fishburne spins the colorful yarns of ordinary people to position himself as an extraordinary observer. There is an organizing principle to his perspective: Every character evinces perseverance, integrity and grit; some of them articulate philosophical arguments about race, inequality and desire. The documentary-style approach is not unlike Anna Deavere Smith’s, although Fishburne’s through line is more diffuse, and his charisma as an actor is never far from the surface. (He thanks all three influences in the program.)

Fishburne has the air of wisdom of someone who, having undertaken deep self-investigation, is eager to share his findings. (The restrained undulating projections designed by Elaine J. McCarthy have a light-behind-the-eyelids feel, evoking memory and contemplation.) To the question of legacy, Fishburne seems to say: It’s not the stage and screen roles that matter, but his powers of perception — of others and of himself. It’s a skill you don’t have to be a movie star to perfect.

Like They Do in the Movies
Through March 31 at the Perelman Arts Center, Manhattan; pacnyc.org. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *