They Met... They Saw... We Conquered.
I always feel compelled to do a post-production synopsis (I mean, why have a blog if you don't, right?), but I don't always have the words to describe my experience. What was easy after my second run of Fences was the mother of all mental blocks trying to describe Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which I ended up not doing. In fact, I had the blog title:
"We Came (to dinner), They Saw (our performance), and we Conquered (Somerset)".
Since I never wrote that blog, coming up for a title for my write-up for The Meeting, a fictitious coming together between Martin Luther King and Malcom X, was easy.
I came to vaguely know Dunbar Repertory Company in 2017, when I went to see my good friend Mahogany Reynolds in their production of A Raisin in the Sun. Vaguely because I was just down in Red Bank, NJ supporting a friend, networking was the farthest thing from my mind (I got to stop doing that), I rolled in, showed some love, and rolled out. The funny thing about New Jersey theatre though for Black artists, not that there's a dearth of talent, but you will eventually cross paths with everyone, especially if there's buzz about you.
Ten days after Raisin, I took in a staged reading at the Holmdel Theater Company (I was preparing for Of Mice and Men there, and thought there was a rehearsal that night. There wasn't, so I stayed for the reading) The reading was for a play called, The Exonerated, and the director presenting it was Darrell Willis... the director of Raisin. We struck up a conversation and discussed things we had going on. A Soldier's Play (Story) was brought up. He was directing it in Feb of '18, and I mentioned I played Sgt Waters in a Brooklyn production in '14 (my first ever play). We were unable to make a connection happen with his production due to my work obligations, but we did end up working together November of '17 in Radio Golf (Darrell played Old Joe to my Roosevelt Hicks).
Darrell continued to keep me in the loop with Dunbar productions. He told me (and literally cast me) in The Meeting and my upcoming play Shakespeare's Lost Masterpiece over a year ago. The Meeting has been a staple of Dunbar since its inception, having performed it around 125 times with Darrell as Dr King, and only one cast member change during that run that spanned 20 years. The cast, realizing that they were starting to get grey (a luxury Martin and Malcolm were unable to experience), they were ready to retire the show altogether, but fans and followers of Dunbar continued to clamor for it. Thus, Darrell, along with director Mark Antonio Henderson found Damien S. Berger (Malcolm), Antonio M. Johnson (Martin), and myself (Malcolm's bodyguard Rashad) to continue the tradition.
We rehearsed twice a week at the Middletown Arts Center in Middletown, NJ, (Dunbar's new home, where they're bringing Sassy Mamas, directed by Darrell, March 22nd to 24th, and have penciled in Camp Logan for the 2019-20 season). While I had to create Rashad, Antonio and Damien had to become, and not become King and X at the same time. Mark specifically emphasized that he didn't want an imitation of these two leaders, but an approximation; he wanted to establish their inner souls without mocking them. Mark constantly fed them research via YouTube videos for character references and the result was greatness. Damien had Malcolm's mannerisms down to a tee, and Antonio channeled Dr King so effortlessly that I had to take pause. It was dynamic seeing them bring their characters to life.
Jeff Stetson's one act play, about 65 minutes long, leaves time for a talkback session afterwards. Our maiden performance was done was done for 240 students from local area high schools (and the mayor of Middletown), which led to a spirited Q&A about the men, the Civil Rights Movement, their different thoughts and ideas, and how their teachings would play out in modern day America. Truly an enlightening road trip for them. The main audiences embraced the story as well, including Dunbar's original cast who were on hand for the finale. Surprisingly, after performing it 125 times, this was the first time any of them have actually viewed the play. They gave their seal of their approval for our performance.
Sometimes it's hard to write a synopsis, but having a back story to revolve it around makes it easier to show my appreciation. I enjoyed my first dance with Dunbar, and I look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.