Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre presents first in-person show of the year: “The Meeting”

A+black+and+white+poster+for+Fleetwood-Jourdain+Theatre%E2%80%99s+%E2%80%9CThe+Meeting%2C%E2%80%9D+including+a+photograph+of+Dr.+King+and+Malcolm+X.

Courtesy of Tim Rhoze

The poster for Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s “The Meeting.” The show fictionalizes a meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X.

Jordan Mangi, Summer Digital Managing Editor

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were both hugely impactful Civil Rights leaders who fought tirelessly for equality and justice. But they never had a chance to meet for more than a few moments before they were both assassinated at age 39. 

Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s first in-person production of 2021, “The Meeting” by Jeff Stetson, seeks to imagine what a conversation between the two men would have looked like. 

“The Meeting” takes place in 1956 — during the height of the Civil Rights movement — in a hotel in Harlem. King and Malcolm X hash out their differences for over an hour, finding common ground but also resistance to each other’s beliefs about progress. Though the play takes place over 50 years ago and was written in 1987, the conversation they have remains relevant today. 

Keith Illidge, who plays Malcolm X, said the way the characters talk about brutality and mistreatment of Black and brown people echoes discussions that are still being had in 2021. 

“I would just like people to adhere to the conversations that are happening in the piece,” he said. “It’s a great piece to see ‘yes we’ve come this far,’ but then also it can get you a little sad and think, ‘wow, we still have to overcome this, too.’” 

The show ran online and had one in-person performance for a vaccinated audience in late June. In an email to The Daily, the artistic director of Fleetwood-Jourdain and the play’s director Tim Rhoze said the theater is hoping to do more in-person performances of it later in July. 

Due to COVID-19, rehearsals began over Zoom and moved to the theater only a few days before the first filming. Jelani Pitcher, who played King, said the adjustment to being in front of a live in-person audience again was challenging, as was having to use his full body and voice again after over a year of Zoom theater. 

Despite the prominence of the two main characters, “The Meeting” still feels intimate. The majority of the show is just the two men in a room, talking through their beliefs. The third character is Malcolm X’s bodyguard, Rashad, played by Matthew Lolar.

“It does get heated,” Pitcher explained. “But they break through that, and you find humanity, and I think that’s the beautiful part of this because they don’t change. They’re two strong minded individuals who have to be strong minded because they have the weight of the movement on their shoulders.”

Although the plot is fictional, the story isn’t sugar-coated. The two men don’t end up in full agreement — but they do find a sense of understanding they didn’t get a chance to come to in real life. 

At one point in the show, Malcolm X says, “We could have made quite a team.” And Dr. King replies, “We do make quite a team; most persons just don’t realize it.” 

Pitcher said he felt this moment captures the essence of the play.

“We’re all on the same team,” he said. “You need everything in tandem to work together; you need that action; you need that education; you need that love; you need all of it.” 

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