Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X Come to Life in The Meeting

Don Snipes (Malcolm X, left) and William Bryson (Martin Luther King, Jr., right) argue during Thursday's showing of The Meeting, a stage play featuring a fictional meeting between the two Civil Right Movement leaders. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)
Don Snipes (Malcolm X, left) and William Bryson (Martin Luther King, Jr., right) argue during Thursday’s showing of The Meeting, a stage play featuring a fictional meeting between the two Civil Right Movement leaders. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

By BROOKELYNN RUGGIRELLO, News Editor

“Today you shall bear witness to a meeting that presupposes that if these two gentlemen, the doctor and the minister, had met, this may have been spoken, discussed, and evoked. Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men shall debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems.”

These are the words that Dr. Reetha Raveendran, Director for Student Engagement, used to preface the OSE’s production of The Meeting, a stage play written in 1987 by Jeff Stetson.

The performance, directed by Coordinator for Diversity Programs Dexter Overall, debuted on Thursday, Jan. 21 in Kochoff Hall. There was a second showing the following evening.

Stetson’s play depicts a dramatized meeting between influential Civil Rights Movement leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. During the fictional meeting, which was imagined to take place in a hotel suite in Harlem not long before both men were to meet their untimely deaths, the leaders clash as they discuss their contrasting ideologies.

King, well-known for his unwavering commitment to the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience in the effort to achieve civil equality for African-Americans, was a founder and the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Among his many accomplishments are his leadership roles in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Ala. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 from the second-floor balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tenn.

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a human rights activist and influential member of the Nation of Islam. Like King, he is known for being a provocative orator. His approach to achieving racial equality differed from King’s in that he endorsed violent tactics as a necessary means of successful social revolution.

Malcolm X was assassinated by three Nation of Islam members on Feb. 21, 1965 just before he was to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.

The one-act production featured actors William Bryson (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Don Snipes (Malcolm X), and Sonny Cruz (Malcolm’s bodyguard, Rashad).

A brief question and answer session was held after the conclusion of the show with all three actors, as well as director Dexter Overall.

The actors discussed the process of “getting into character” to play the roles of the prominent historical figures.

“When you understand the weight of that time period and how serious it is, these men put their life on the lines and that weight — the weight of a nation behind you — that kind of pressure, that kind of heat, your family being threatened day in and day out, getting calls from people that hate you and want to kill you, that’s what got me to where I needed to be and to understand what kind of task that was to be able to do those kind of things,” Bryson said.

Cruz also connected with the amount of pressure that his character was under.

“It [preparing for the role] was not too much of a challenge, but it was mesmerizing because he’s [Rashad] a bodyguard putting his life on the line for a man whose life is on the line,” Cruz said.

In addition to the historical context of their roles, the actors also took into account the personalities of the men they portrayed.

“A lot of people didn’t really get to see Malcolm in those playful moments, you know, him teasing somebody else, or him playing around, or him enjoying music,” Snipes said in reference to Stetson’s depiction of the playful interactions between Malcolm and Rashad.

Outside of that, one thing I really studied was his [Malcolm’s] rhetorical devices, his parallelisms, the symbolism he used when he spoke, the frequency [of it] and oftentimes, he would stutter,” Snipes continued.

Overall and the actors noted that connections can be drawn between the events depicted in Stetson’s script and contemporary social movements, primarily the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In a way, I think the production and some of the lines that they were saying, being that this was written in the eighties, I think a lot of the lines — everything that’s being spoken — is coming to fruition,” Overall said. “The script is almost prophetic in a way… and that was really my motivation for bringing this production. I think now it’s time for us to do more than a few slideshows and a keynote speaker. I think it’s time to — since things are happening in real life — I think it’s time to bring dialogue like this to people. I think it’s time for students, and staff, and everyone to see it live and in color.”

Overall concluded the production by reiterating his artistic intent.

“As a director, I just want the conversation to start and the learning to begin,” he said.