Malcolm X tells Martin Luther King Jr. that he had a dream, then smirks and says “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s your line.”
Racial prejudice and the struggle for human rights brought about bloodshed, angst and struggle. The leaders who fought against racism, held onto the hope that there would be better days. Blending frustration with comedy, The Meeting gives the audience a unique interpretation of the famous leaders.
Black Theatre Workshop presents a new twist to the stories of Malcolm X and King in The Meeting, which tells the tale of a fictional encounter between the two activists.
Directed by Quincy Armorer, the plot centers on the imagined dynamic between Malcolm X (Lindsay Owen Pierre) and King (Christian Paul) who, in reality, only met briefly. Written by Jeff Stetson, it also stars Kareem Tristan Alleyne as Rashad, Malcolm’s bodyguard.
The play situates this meeting by having King go to Malcolm X’s hotel room on the night his house was firebombed.
They vibe with one another from the start, frequently joking about the other’s views. The conversation soon gets heated and a debate on violence and non-violence erupts. Each character becomes defensive as they try to prove the legitimacy of their stance to the other.
This script is filled with comedy, impassioned speeches, witticisms and metaphors. It succeeds in presenting a completely different picture of the two activists — far from the one found in schoolbooks and historical footage. The characters appear as ordinary every-men, who sing, get angry and even arm wrestle. Though they despair over their differences, they end up respecting one another.
At times, however, the writing misses in achieving this interpretation. The metaphors become too frequent and the frustration is not always believable.
Paul’s portrayal of King’s spoken voice is flawed in many ways. His accent sounds forced and continuously speech-like. Dialogue that should have sounded like an unpolished, off-the-cuff conversation ends up resembling a prepared address.
Pierre provides a more realistic portrait and succeeds in highlighting Malcolm X’s emotions and mannerisms.
Another interesting element are the scenes between Pierre and his bodyguard Rashad. Alleyne, whose role is his acting debut, delivers a good repertoire with Pierre and depicts a fiercely protective and friendly bodyguard.
The stage setting is modest and includes a couch, a chessboard, a few small tables and a makeshift window and balcony. The stage is also in close proximity to the audience, which serves to include the viewer in the intimacy of the scenes.
The play highlights some of the main difficulties these activists faced in their plight and some of the main themes of their agendas. A non-violence stance emphasizes love, peace and unity. The violence view brings up the white man, injustice and self-defense. The debates were peppered with some dramatic pauses that were included for effect, to echo sentiments of frustration, anger or sadness. There are times and places where this tension worked, and didn’t in others. King and Malcolm X come together, however, during discussions of power and the pursuit of it.
The Meeting runs until March 1 at The Segal Centre’s Le Studio as part of Black History Month.
Online: This review belongs with the rest of Black History Month articles.