Affecting autobiographical storytelling in Laurence Fishburne’s one-man show ‘Like They Do in the Movies’ at Off-Broadway’s PAC NYC

In his world-premiere solo show Like They Do in the Movies, now playing a limited Off-Broadway engagement through the end of the month at PAC NYC (which commissioned the work), Tony and Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne combines his legendary acting talent with reflections on what he has described as “the stories and lies people have told me. And that I have told myself.” Both written and performed by Fishburne, the acclaimed star of the stage and screen presents a series of eight intimate vignettes about his family and acquaintances that are “nearest and dearest” to his heart, which shine a spotlight on his life and career through an exploration of his personal and professional background, interactions, and experiences, and the impact they’ve had on him.

Laurence Fishburne. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by Leonard Foglia, the one-man soul-bearing tour de force of storytelling (and exercise in self-therapy) has Fishburne standing, sitting, and actively moving around the mostly bare stage, furnished with just a portable table and two chairs (set by Neil Patel), glasses from which he drinks, and a pair of knitting needles (props supervision by Jonno Knust), as he transitions from scene to scene, character to character, signaled by quick costume changes (with Zinda Williams serving as Head of Wardrobe), and shifts in lighting (by Tyler Micoleau), sound (by Justin Ellington), and projections (by Elaine J. McCarthy) of posters and programs from his well-known shows, photos of his family, and the locales of the reminiscences he shares on the full upstage screen behind him. It’s an artistic design that enhances his accounts but keeps the focus squarely on Fishburne.

Beginning and ending with no-holds-barred revelations about his parents (which he teases with “more about that later”), the extended stories are sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, sometimes heartwarming, and always compelling, as he fluidly interweaves direct-address narration and asides to the audience with vivid re-enactments of conversations he’s had, imitating the accents, speech patterns, and demeanors of the figures who shaped, influenced, and affected him, and capturing the humanity of all of them, with their struggles and imperfections, socio-political observations, class, race, and gender perspectives, the decisions they made, the realizations he came to, the appreciation he felt, and the person he is because of them.

Laurence Fishburne. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In addition to the candid memories and disturbing disclosures about his parents (including his genetic predisposition to a specific personality disorder), the scenes feature a newspaper printer who receives a police citation to appear in court for drunkenness (which, Fishburne notes at its conclusion, “is a true tale”); a friend who was stranded at a hospital in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit (closing with an especially touching sentiment); his bodyguard on a film shoot giving him TMI about his life while keeping fans at a distance; a worker at a car wash who runs into celebrities (some generous, some not) while on the job; and the well-educated proprietor of a high-end brothel in Australia who compares racial discrimination and government systems in the US, Australia, and China (while monetizing the sexploitation of women, including his own wife).

But no spoilers here; to see “more about that,” the truths Fishburne learned from the stories and lies he was told, and his masterful embodiment of a variety of disparate roles and emotions, don’t miss his galvanizing reflections and stellar performance in Like They Do in the Movies.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Like They Do in the Movies plays through Sunday, March 31, 2024, at PAC NYC, 251 Fulton Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $64-168, including fees), call (212) 266-3000, or go online.


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