I asked him to come, and he said yes. And, he never asked why.
— Malcolm X to Rashad about King accepting his invitation
The iconic photograph of two world class leaders, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shaking hands is an extraordinary moment in history. That photo, taken on Thursday, March 26, 1964 as King left a news conference and Malcolm obstructed his path to extend his hand. Click! went the camera and a moment is captured. In that instant, which occurred over 50 years ago, is proof that the men weren’t always combative. The rumor was that the two men did have a real-life meeting at a hotel. What was said, who knows? But the idea that they could come together to discuss the future of African-Americans is intriguing.
The Meeting, written by Jeff Stetson, takes that alleged moment and created such a convincing story that it could be possible. In this probing account, Malcolm (greatly played by Bechir Sylvain) waits for Dr. King (the wonderful Ethan Henry) at a non-descript hotel. His bodyguard Rashad (a charismatic Justin Chu Cary) is fearful for his boss because he’s not taking his safety seriously. While Rashad makes sure that the curtains remain closed and Malcolm is fully rested from his nap, apparently, he was having a nightmare until his bodyguard woke him, he asks what seems like a million times “why you are meeting with him?” meaning King. Malcolm wipes the sleep away from his eyes and carefully explains, for the millionth time, it was inevitable their paths would cross. Rashad shakes his head and rolls his eyes at his boss. Malcolm prepares to meet with the preacher. There’s a knock on the door. Rashad takes precaution by carefully and unnecessarily frisking the reverend. Really? Has it come to that? He checks the paper bag that King is holding, looks inside then looks at Malcolm, shakes his head and leaves. The men are free to talk.
King, in his Southern drawl, expresses his sympathy to Malcolm, whose family home was recently bombed. In listening to their intense conversation, is like watching two great and masterful tennis players going at it. King says something and Malcolm shoots him down. Malcolm says something equally insulting and King comes back swinging hard. These rapid-fire quips can be dizzying but their effectiveness works well.
MALCOLM: ….Did anyone see you come in?
KING: No. I followed your instructions. The next time you want me
to take the back stairs, I wish you could get a room on a
floor lower than the seventh.
MALCOLM: I’ve seen you on TV. You could afford to lose a few pounds.
KING: Television makes you look heavier…
Neither will budge half an inch from their over-heated platform. They even arm wrestle their stress away. Of course, the both falter. Stetson has a brilliant vision on how these titans for civil rights fight for the same cause but in different ways. King is more “we shall overcome” while, Malcolm is definitely more “we shall come over” by any means necessary. Stetson doesn’t choose one over the other. Instead, he has each man express themselves which allows the audience to decide who they agree with, not who’s right and wrong. It’s this manifestation which displays each of their compelling characters. They both believe they are right and it’s up to them to convince the rest of the world the same thing. It’s quite brilliant. All three characters excel in their roles bringing forth heart and soul with a touch of stubbornness. Two heavy greats in a single room. My, my, my such endless possibilities.
The Meeting ends Sunday, September 24 with two shows at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., playing at Theater 68, located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood. For ticket reservation and more information, log on to www.malcolmmeetsmartin.com or www.theatre68.com. After each performance, there will be a Q & A with the director and the actors.