At a time when we are starved for theater, Woodie King Jr. and his New Federal Theatre present delectable food for the soul through its Play Reading Series. They recently presented a virtual performance of “The Meeting” by Jeff Stetson, a production originally presented in 1986 and which was later televised in 1989 from the American Playhouse. For this performance, the actors were on split screens as they performed the roles of Malcolm X (played by Beethovan Oden); Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Joseph L. Edwards) and Rashad (played by Tyler Fauntleroy). The play takes place in a Harlem hotel room on Valentine’s Day 1965. Stetson shares an imaginary meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. King. Two men are opposite sides of the Civil Rights Movement—one man who believed “by any means necessary”—where violence was fine and another who believed completely in peaceful protest, marching and sit-ins at lunch counters in White restaurants in the South.
What was so engaging about this play is that Malcolm X and Dr. King are shown to be very passionate and set in their opinions. Neither can convince the other that his way is better, and each man has very valid arguments for his approach to Civil Rights issues. While they are seen by the public as more than human, they know deep down that human is exactly what they are, and they are both ready to die for the cause they believe in.
By the end of the encounter they have arm-wrestled a few times to relieve tension and have shared moments of levity. In the end, the threat to their lives and their families that their work represents is 100% clear to them. They have common ground: they both want to do things to help our people. They also realize that they have children who are directly affected by what they do. In the storyline, Malcolm X’s home had been fire bombed earlier that day and his daughter was seen looking devastated on television. Dr. King’s daughter saw the little girl’s face and placing herself in the little girl’s place, does a very kind and selfish gesture.
Stetson did a magnificent job presenting these characters and capturing the principles, strengths and tender points that these larger than life figures had in history. He brings them to the level that we can all identify with. He also puts the character of Rashad in the room with Malcolm X as a young bodyguard who is completely sympathetic to Malcolm X’s views and feels a complete sense of loyalty to him. He worries about Malcolm X the man and wants to protect him, but Malcolm X explains that this isn’t about him, it’s about all Blacks and doing what we can to protect our people.
The performances of this cast were mesmerizing and enlightening. This phenomenal reading was directed by Ajene Washington. The next play in the reading series, running Feb. 27-Mar. 1, will be “Widows” by Mfundi Vundla, with direction by Clinton Turner Davis. The cast will feature Zoleka Vundla, Phinki Wilson and Tanya Nomaziko Zondo. To view the play go to newfederaltheatre.com. And, please remember: donations are always welcome.