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Power and Majesty in Life and Art

 Power and Majesty in Life and Art

Veteran actor Montae Russell will tackle the most challenging role of his career as Thurgood Marshall in the one-man play, Thurgood.

In the riveting one-man play about this life, Thurgood Marshall says: "I could feel in my bones the power and majesty of the law." Bringing Marshall to life onstage is Montae Russell, a actor who feels in his bones the power and majesty of the theater.

A native of Pittsburgh who now lives in Los Angeles, Montae's work will be familiar to many. Those who frequent Broadway may have enjoyed his performances in King Hedley III, A Few Good Men, and Prelude to a Kiss. Television viewers will know him as paramedic Dwight Zadro on the beloved series "ER." Public Theater audiences have watched him in half a dozen shows here, most recently 2008's Radio Golf.

Or, if you attended a production of A Christmas Carol at Barrett Middle School in Homestead, you coudl have seen him at age 13 as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Getting to say the immortal words, "Bah! Humbug!" helped set Montae on a path that would take him to weekend acting classes at Point Park College and then to Dr. Vernall Lillie's Kuntu Repertory Theatre at the University of Pittsburgh.

In Thurgood, long before becoming the nation's first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall tells us about a person who inspired him to get serious, to become committed. It was a fellow student at Lincoln College, a poet by the name of Langston Hughes.

While still attending Steel Valley High School, Montae also made a friend who would greatly influence his life. The young actor was cast in a premiere staged by the small local company called Allegheny Repertory Theatre. The play was Jitney by emerging Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson and Montae originated the role of Youngblood. Wilson was so impressed with the performance that he strongly urged Montae to pursue a professional career.

Montae attended the University of Pittsburgh and continued acting throughout college. By graduation he knew he wanted a life in the theater. Armed with letters of recommendation from August Wilson and Marc Masterson (then Artistic Director of City Theatre), he was accepted at the prestigious Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University where he earned his MFA.

The actor has done well in his professional career and landed roles across the country in theater, film, and television. He appeared in everything from Ice Cube's movie The Players Club and Godzilla with Matthew Broderick, to Cleveland Play House's African-American production of The Glass Menagerie. His dozens of TV credits include HBO's "Laurel Avenue," "Lily in Winter" opposite Natalie Cole, and a three-year stint on the daytime drama "One Life to Live."

But his heart always stayed with August Wilson and he never missed an opportunity to perform onstage in one of Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" plays. Since that first Jitney, Montae has now appeared in nine of the 10 Cycle plays which explore, decade by decade, the African-American experience in the 20th century.

This knowledge will serve him well in the role of Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), a man who not only lived through that century but used the law to change it for the betterment of all Americans.