Laurence Fishburne is Thurgood Marshall (NYC/One-Act Play)

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LAURENCE FISHBURNE first read the one-man play “Thurgood” while flying last year from New York to Boston, where he was being honored as the Harvard Foundation’s artist of the year. After checking into his hotel, he walked down a hall lined with portraits of Harvard alumni and paused in front of one of them: Charles Hamilton Houston, a Harvard Law graduate who was Thurgood Marshall’s mentor. “I thought to myself, well, I really don’t have a choice about whether I should do this play or not,” he said.

Much of what Mr. Fishburne does — onstage, on screen and in life — is driven by intuition rather than deliberation. “Most actors are nervous, they’re timid, they find their way sideways into the role, they find every reason not to actually do the scene, they’d rather talk about it for a hundred years,” said Leonard Foglia, the director of “Thurgood,” which opens Wednesday at the Booth Theater. “Laurence is a very visceral person.”

Sheldon Epps, who directed Mr. Fishburne in “Fences” at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2006, said, “The first word that comes to mind is fearless.”

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