Review: The Black Rep Presents Engrossing Fictional Meeting Between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X had met, what would they discuss? That’s the premise of playwright Jeff Stetson’s “The Meeting,” which depicts a fictional meeting between two of the greatest and most influential African-Americans in history. While both men shared a common goal, they were worlds apart on how to get there. In The Black Rep’s current production, the meeting between the two becomes an engrossing and fascinating look into the personalities, lives and beliefs of two icons whose impact on the world is still resonating today.
In truth, the two men actually did meet. The year prior to when this fictional story takes place—February 1965—King and Malcolm X met at a press conference in Washington D.C. following the Senate debate on the Civil Rights bill. This would mark the sole occasion they met, lasting just one minute; long enough to take the only picture of the two men together.
King and Malcolm X were at opposite ends of the spectrum in their beliefs on how to achieve equality for African-Americans. Dr. King, of course, championed advancement of civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience, a course of action firmly rooted in his Christian beliefs. Malcolm X, on the other hand, harshly indicted white America for its crimes against black Americans, and he was accused of preaching violence and racism by his critics.
Ka’ramuu Kush as Malcolm X and Matthew Galbraith as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turn in rich, nuanced performances as the men spar and discuss their beliefs and methods of attaining equality. A couple of arm wrestling contests during the course of the scene is obvious symbolism, but entertaining too. Malcolm X wins the first bout; Dr. King the second, mirroring the parry, thrusts and advantages enjoyed during their conversation. Likewise, Phillip C Dixon as Malcolm X’s bodyguard Rashad gives a strong performance, his love for Malcolm X and his distaste of Dr. King never in doubt.
Each man understands his destiny is to be assassinated, and it is foreshadowed in the play. The imaginary meeting takes place in the Lorraine Hotel where, in a humorous scene, Malcolm X coaxes King onto the balcony, a prospect that King finds more than a little disconcerting. Of course, he will eventually be killed while standing on a balcony of that very hotel.
For Malcolm X’s part, lamenting his absence from his family, he tells his wife on the phone that the entire family should meet him at the Audubon, where he is scheduled to appear next. What he cannot know is that it is where his assassination will occur. It will be another three years before Dr. King is assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine.
So who wins the upper hand in the conversation between Malcolm X and Dr. King? Before leaving the hotel room, the men have one last arm wrestling session—a tie-breaker. When at an impasse—neither man able to force the other’s hand to the table—they declare a draw, much like real life.
“The Meeting” continues at The Black Rep through Jan. 26, 2014. For information and tickets, visit The Black Rep website, or call (314) 534-3810.