WEST VALLEY — The Meeting is a one-act play by Jeff Stetson that depicts the supposed clandestine meeting between two of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The play is set in a room in Harlem’s historic Hotel Theresa in February during the time just after the 1965 burning of Malcolm X’s home. Differing in their philosophies, nonviolence versus aggressive separatism, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems.
This play marks the inaugural production of the EttaGrace Black Theatre Company and is one of which they can be rightly proud. Director and co-founder Melissa Adams has done a wonderful job of bringing this play to the stage. A one-act play with three actors and a small set can stagnate very easily, but this show keeps the action moving. The interaction between the characters is natural and genuine.
The cast is first rate. Lonzo Liggins as Malcolm X is a commanding presence. His portrayal is confident and secure. He conveys Malcolm X’s anger and drive for a radical solution to the issue of race in America. The conviction that only meeting violence with violence will bring about the change that is needed is palpable. In contrast, Terrence S. Johnson’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a much calmer antagonist in the civil rights movement. His ability to display the character’s desire for non-violent action and the successes that he sees as a result of this action is equally effective. They are equally matched in this play, and must be, or it runs the risk of falling into being a heavy-handed exercise. Thankfully, that does not happen here. You feel the love that each of these men feels for their families, the desire they have to bring about the change that is needed in this country, and the conviction that each of them has that their solution is the only right one.
A special word must be said about first-time actor Harold DeHorney as Rashad, Malcolm X’s bodyguard. He has a very natural flow in his scenes and has a wonderful scene at the beginning of the show with Mr. Liggins that still makes me smile.
This is a very weighty play, based on history, but presented in a fictional context. The conversation is, at times, painful to listen to, especially for a white male. I like to think of myself as fairly open-minded and accepting, but while watching this play, I did feel some discomfort. Much of Malcolm X’s dialogue is very condemning of the government and whites. And with the knowledge that he was to be assassinated within the week, it becomes especially poignant. However, there is much humor in this very weighty play, and the dialogue flows at a very natural pace. Nothing seems forced or clichéd in this production. The playwright did a masterful job of taking the beliefs of these two men and presenting it to us as a heated conversation. You can sense the respect these two men have for each other, despite their differing philosophies.
I have to admit that my knowledge of these two leaders is limited to what I have been taught in school and seen in movies. This play has given me a real desire to know more. And I cannot say enough about these fine actors. I hope to see much more of them in the future. The set design by Marnie Sears was simple and classic, and the lighting design by Seth Miller helped to focus the attention on the action of the play. Costumer Roberta Maness captured the time period and the look of all characters perfectly. The Utah Cultural Celebration Center is beautiful setting and serves the intimacy of this play to great effect. I anxiously await what I am sure will be the future successes of this promising new company. The EttaGrace Black Theatre Company (named after the grandmothers of co-founders Melissa Adams and Toni Byrd) has stated their purpose as teaching the history of the black community. With this production they are well on their way to accomplishing this goal.