THE MEETINGBy Jeff Stetson
African American Repertory Theater
Director/Production Manager/Costume Design – Regina Washington
Set Design – Prudence Jones
Set Construction – Sarah McGrath, Joy-Serene Adams, Justin Fite & Jesus Rodriguez
Set Painting – Mark Jones & Prudence Jones
Light Design – Sarah Harris
Sound Design – Bear Hamilton
Property Design – Angela Washington
Light & Sound Tech – Billy Warren
Box Office Manager – Alexandria Hill
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Jordan DragonKing
Malcolm X – Christopher Dontrell Piper
Rashad – Darren McElroy
Reviewed Performance: 5/4/2018
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play, written in 1987, nineteen years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and twenty-two years after the assignation of Malcolm X, seems to be an attempt to humanize the two men. Even at that time a sense of deification surrounded both men. These two selfless martyrs fought the good fight and prevailed, but these are special men, not like their brothers and sisters. One of the statues at the MLK memorial in Washington reflects this-it is a plaster saint of old, cold and imperious, with no connection to humanity. This view reflects a job well-done and does not refer to the work in civil and economic rights that still needs to be engaged. “The Meeting” show us two men, dealing with their present and future fears and struggling to discern if their life’s work will have any real meaning.
We are taken to a hotel room in Harlem, where Malcolm and his bodyguard Rashad await the visit by Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm extended the invitation and was surprised that King accepted it. This is tense time. Malcolm’s home had been fire-bombed the night before, so he is concerned about his family’s safety and his own. And there is the constant surveillance by the FBI (referred to at the end of a personal phone call- “And if the FBI is listening, we could use some Chinese food-hold the pork!”) adding extra pressure to every move. And there are questions about the meeting with King. Malcolm’s bodyguard, Rashad, wonders about the meeting with “…the King of Love…” and worries that some people see Malcolm as getting soft on white people. The stakes are high.
What follows is a litany of ideas between two men with disparate points of view. Malcolm views the white man with suspicion, being engaged in a constant campaign to subjugate blacks and willing to use physical and economic violence to accomplish this goal. To Malcolm, integration simply means becoming a pawn for the white man, a good Negro. Blacks must establish their own society and must use every means necessary, including physical violence to protect themselves. This is the only way to fight the pernicious system of racism prevalent in the Northern United States.
As a proponent and practitioner of non-violent resistance, King confronted the overt racism of the South and sought to expose that hatred to the light of day where all could see. Non-violence confronts hatred with love and proves that love can conquer hate and remove the barriers that force blacks into a subservient place in society. King believes that the goal is integration, to be equal in status with whites politically and economically. The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Bill are only stepping stones to full equality. When King confronts the systemic racism in the North that he encounters in Chicago and begins to speak against the War in Vietnam and economic inequality in the United States in the years before his death, he comes to his own crisis of faith.
Amidst the ideas is the picture of two powerful men sizing each other up. There are verbal barbs thrown back and forth. There is a two-out-of-three arm wrestling match where both men say they let the other one win in the previous two rounds. Both talk of family and the danger they face because of their outspoken positions. Both men know that death is imminent (the play is set days before Malcolm’s assassination) and both wonder if their work will yield results. In the end, we are given two men separated by faith, ideology and methods, who find that they are forever connected by their common humanity.
The set, designed by Prudence Jones, has the long past its prime look of a New York Tenement, the kind of place you would want to use to avoid attention to a meeting. It even has a balcony area which I found to be great. The direction, by Regina Washington, was crisp and tight and the play moved with purpose.
The lead actors, Jordan DragonKing as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christopher Dontrell Piper as Malcolm X took hold of their roles with passion. If I had been casting, I would have switched the two because of physical resemblances to the historical characters. And that is why I am a reviewer and not a director. Both men convincingly conveyed the passion of two men who have been shaped and driven by their convictions. Christopher Dontrell Piper delivered Malcolm’s lines with fire and conviction and sometimes gave the feeling of a man striving to convince himself of the righteousness of his cause. Blessed with a good sense of timing, Mr. Piper made the most of the jokes and barbs that the playwright gave him. Malcolm has most of the lines and delivers them as a true believer.
Jordan DragonKing (sir, that is a great name) as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows the elegance of a man who has spent most of his life speaking in front of people and has a natural ease and grace. Mr. DragonKing finds the power in his lines and defends his position with the eloquence and grace we associate with Dr. King.
Both performers interact with each other naturally in an arc that leads from probing to find out what the other man wants to mutual respect. Supporting the leads is Darren McElroy as Rashad, Malcolm’s bodyguard. Mr. McElroy gives a sincere, honest performance. He exudes a comfortable air on the stage (In the performance I saw, something fell, and Mr. McElroy picked it up and kept going-a sign of a professional). Rashad comes across as a sincere friend and follower of Malcolm.
Please come see this show. It’s not very long and you will be greatly rewarded for your time. And it will give you plenty of material to speculate on what might have been.
African American Repertory Theater Presents
In Collaboration with the Dallas Historical Society
May 4 - 19, 2018
Hall of State
Margaret and Al Hill Lecture Hall
3939 Grand Avenue – Dallas, TX 75210
Parking available through Gate 3
May 9, 2018 -1:00PM (Weekday Matinee) - $15.00
MAY 12th, 13th, 19th @ 2:30pm - $20.00
MAY 11th, 18th, 19th @ 7:30pm - $25.00
For tickets and more information:
aareptheater.net or 972.572.0998