The Meeting, at Red Stitch Theatre - 60 minutes
A secret imaginary rendezvous between two towering but polar opposite African American leaders plays out in The Meeting.
The pair lived in the same era. Both were assassinated at age 39.
One preached non-violence, the other violent rebellion.
I speak of Baptist minister and activist Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) and Muslim minister and activist Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965).
Photos by Jodie Hutchinson
The meeting is called by Malcolm X, who is preparing for a big rally the following Sunday and whose house has just been firebombed. He was not present, but his wife and children were.
Malcolm X is being carefully watched by his bodyguard, who ushers him away from the window.
The activist fears his future is already writ large, noting that it comes with the type of leadership he espouses.
But he doesn’t back away from his militant stance. In fact, far from it.
He calls out Martin Luther King for his pacifism, declaring that won’t facilitate the change he is after.
For his part, Luther King maintains violence begets violence.
Suffice to say the meeting doesn’t go well, until a quantum shift takes place.
In amongst the vitriol, playwright Jeff Stetson has found room for levity and that lightness of touch finds an appreciative audience.
Since he wrote it 35 years ago, The Meeting has been produced in all 50 states of America and been seen in more than a dozen countries.
It features a compelling to and fro between two important historic figures.
Common ground is hard to find, although there is later acknowledgment of mutual respect.
Sprouting fire and brimstone, Christopher Kirby brings power and gravitas to his role as Malcolm X. Kirby is a sizable and unmissable presence.
Diminutive in size by comparison as Martin Luther King, Dushan Philips lets his elegant delivery of ripostes speak for him.
Philips conveys the impression of a man you would want with you when the going gets tough – someone who could talk you off a building ledge.
Stetson has based much humour around the interplay between Malcolm X and his bodyguard Rashad.
Akhilesh Jain has a fine command of what is required in that regard and makes the most of the opportunities presented to him.
I appreciated the texture of the offering. In the hands of director Tanya Gerstle, The Meeting makes for good theatre.
In a contemporary context, you are left asking how far the US has actually come since the ‘60s when these two iconic black leaders were slayed.
The Meeting is playing at Red Stitch Theatre in St Kilda East until 23rd October, 2022.