Imagine you’ve worked hard at your job all year, and on your summer break (or “hiatus” as it is known in the trade), you go off to tackle a job that is many times harder than the one you are on break from. That’s just what Joe Morton, one of the ensemble stars of ABC’s Scandal, has done.
Morton chose a script, Turn Me Loose, by the very talented Gretchen Law, that is essentially a one-man show, runs over two hours, and is a biography on a real person. If that wasn’t enough, the show, directed by John Gould Rubin, is on the always controversial comic, Civil Rights activist and entrepreneur Dick Gregory.
Gregory grew up in the south at a time when, as he put it, it was not safe to be both black and in the south. His natural talents, however -- first his running ability, and then the talents he found with his mind, and his mouth -- pulled him out of the life he was born into. Frequently referred to as the black Lenny Bruce (to which Gregory asked, “Why isn’t he the white Dick Gregory?”), he was soon playing top nightclubs like the Playboy Club in Chicago, and not long after, The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. But his natural drive, his mind and being black in the middle of the era of the Civil Rights began to take his life in other directions, often dangerous ones. Fighting in every direction in one’s life -- work, government, acceptance -- while also balancing obligations to family takes its toll.
Gretchen Law’s script takes Joe Morton back and forth through different stages of Mr. Gregory’s life. One scene young, the next as an older man reflecting on his choices, repeatedly answering the oft-asked question, “Mr. Gregory, have you always been like this?”
“Yes,” he would answer each time.
Morton’s challenge to play such an intense character was steep, not only for its intensity, but also for the great intelligence of the character and script. Certainly, many of the best lines were taken directly from speeches and club acts by Mr. Gregory himself. But Joe Morton’s ability to step into the role is spectacular. Morton’s performance is the epitome of what we love to watch when we watch great acting.