Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, two giants of the American civil rights movement held radically different approaches to the cause. Their beliefs and methods differed wildly but both were working towards a common goal. Jeff Stetson’s play The Meeting imagines what would have happened had the two met to discuss their beliefs. It is an interesting proposition, two intellectually different beliefs, two determined individuals and two men who inspired complete devotion from their followers. Who has the correct approach; how do they view each other and how could they work together?
Set on Valentine’s Day 1965, a week before his assassination, Malcolm X has invited Martin Luther King Jr to New York. Will the Reverend attend and how will the men get on?
Director Chuck Mike’s production starts as the audience enter the theatre with riot police patrolling the foyer and placard-waving protestors singing We Shall Overcome. Inside the auditorium the play starts with speeches from the two leaders. While this should serve as a strong introduction to the piece it actually acts as a barrier, taking 15 minutes for the actual action to start. Given the renowned oration skills of the protagonists it’s not surprising that Stetson’s play is a wordy one but it makes to keep dramatic tension. Running at nearly 1hour 45 without interval, the majority of which consists of just two men talking, there is little variety in tone or pace to keep attention. Ray Shell’s Martin Luther King Jr and Cornell S John’s Malcolm X are performed well, although John’s projection at times made some lines inaudible.
These two men are pivotal in 20th Century history and there is clear potential here for theatre to examine their possible relationship. Sadly The Meeting reveals little new about the pair and the complex differences and similarities that drove them in the name of freedom.