note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
The Jeff Stetson play, “The Meeting” currently at Ocean State Theatre is inspired by an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in February 1965 in a hotel room. It is fast paced and vivid sparked by solid performances and deft direction. It is the New England premiere.
It gets off to a slow start with montage of images and newsreels before and after the show. While the images are solid, they go on to long before anything happens onstage. When the play starts it is often taut, intense and provocative. The conflict of the two ideologies is often compelling and always interesting as the two men go at it, philosophies overflowing and ready. The philosophical differences between the two are well known. Kind preferred the much slower peaceful transition to equality in their face of Malcolm X’s more aggressive in your face tactics.
It opens with Malcolm X and his bodyguard, Rashad in the hotel room as he enters with his pistol drawn, poised for trouble. The two end up joking and singing a Billie Holiday duet while waiting for the “king of love.”
The meeting between the revolutionary and the two men are immediately contrasted in their methods from the first. When King arrives. Rashad helps him off with his coat and manages to sneak in a frisk of him as well which gets a laugh. Both Malcolm and King get equal billing, but Malcolm by far is the most dynamic. Malcolm asserts that “aggression in the name of self-defense is not violence, it’s honor.”
Damron Russel Armstrong is Malcolm X. He is full of energy, zest and passion. He has an intriguing and dynamic mind and is very animated. He is in your face and hard to ignore. Armstrong delivers a winning performance, full of fervor and conviction. Marcus Deward Johnson is Dr. King. He is a man restrained and determined, mild in manner and style. He does not resemble King at all but has mastered his mannerisms, spirit and voice to deliver a fine performance.
Tony Mitchell is Rashad, the bodyguard. He is a hulking presence at once ominous and protective. Mitchell is fine as the bodyguard in a vibrant performance and musters humor when needed in contrast to his ominous size.
Ocean State Theatre Company's Producing Artistic Director, Amiee Turner directs with a keen touch and eye to pacing in the best of her straight play direction efforts which is perceptive and always on the mark. She also designed the set which is simple and works well evoking a 60’s seedy hotel room.
Stetson keeps his writing crisp and often insightful, with many gems along the way. He clearly and deftly defines each man’s stance and tactics to achieve their goals. Their social and political goals are very clear. Kind the advocate of non violence and Malcolm the advocate of do what is necessary to get the hob done. Stetson does a fine job of imagining how such a meeting would have gone, with its humor along the way. Two moments stand out for humor, the one when the bodyguard frisks King under the guise of helping him off with his coat and the other a touching moment when King gives Malcolm and doll for King’s daughter to Malcolm’s after Malcolm’s home has been bombed the night before.
The arm wrestling between King and Malcolm echoes their philosophical battle in concrete terms, making it more theatrical. What happens over this philosophical confrontation is the two men gradually reach a level of mutual respect as King ponders how much they could have accomplished if they had managed to work together for their mutual goals. Even thought set in the 1960’s it relates to contemporary headlines and news.
It will be presented again at Ocean State through Feb. 15.