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Play coming to Madison College imagines meeting between MLK and Malcolm X: “There’s more to them than we’ve been taught.”

Talen Marshall as Malcolm X and William Toney as Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Omar Waheed.

In “The Meeting,” a 1987 play by Jeff Stetson, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X clash over how to liberate Black Americans and achieve equality, but find common ground in what they’re fighting for – all while seemingly aware of their impending deaths.

That meeting never happened, of course. The two icons only met once, just for a moment, outside a US Senate hearing. But imagining what they’d talk about, given the chance, can help us think about equity today.

Nobleman Theater Troupe is bringing the show to Madison College on Saturday, February 10, to celebrate Black History Month. Madison365 is the media partner of this presentation.

Listen to our interview with director Denzel Taylor on last week’s podcast:

Director Denzel Taylor hopes the play is a starting point.

“I would first like for everyone to walk away with a greater desire to know more about Malcolm X and Dr. King in the civil rights era,” he said. “There’s so much more that we can learn and understand about them, while also not discrediting or delegitimizing in any way what they were fighting for. And we need to recognize that they had respect for each other. Even though a lot of the grounding philosophy might have been different, there was still a respect for the work and still a pursuit for the liberation of Black people and for the improvement of the American people. I would hope that people can walk away, recognizing that there’s more to them than what we’ve been taught on the surface level and wanting to learn more.”

Taylor called the script “rhetorically riveting.”

The imagined characters “take their philosophies, their values, their missions, and they pit them against each other. The play pits them against each other, as they seek to find common ground,” Taylor said. “The characters, Dr. King and Malcolm X in the play, are sort of aware of their coming demise … They use language like ‘Promised Land’ and ‘mountaintop’ a lot … it’s almost like, are they aware? Do they know that they’re coming to an end while still fighting and feeling compelled to not fight each other, but fight the situation that they and the American people find themselves in?”

Taylor also said the script remains relevant today, even though it was written closer in time to the Civil Rights Movement than to 2024.

“Jeff Stetson did a crazy job with how he wrote this play,” he said. “There are several moments in the play, several lines, that feel like they were written with a vision of what’s happening, what has happened in recent years.”

This isn’t the first time Taylor has directed this show – he was recruited to direct it for the Milwaukee Black Theater Festival several years ago.

“That show was well received. People just enjoyed it. We had a nice audience every night. And the most consistent response was, Can you do it again?” Taylor recalled.

This will be the debut production of Nobleman Theater Troupe, Taylor’s new nonprofit theater company.

Taylor, a Milwaukee native, graduated from UW-Madison, where he attended on scholarship in the First Wave urban arts program. He grew up as a rapper and poet but discovered theater in college when a persistent professor convinced him to audition for a production. He’s gone on to work with professional companies like Children’s Theater of Madison and Black Arts MKE, where he’s played Jesus in the production of Black Nativity for the past three years.

Nobleman Theater Troupe gets its name from the stage name he used as a young rapper.

“I called myself Noble, mainly out of my infatuation with the Four Noble Truths,” he said. “It wasn’t so much about the Buddhist principles, but it was more about me wanting a name that didn’t give me a new persona, but a name that spoke to my character and my values.”

Taylor said he has big aspirations for the future of Nobleman Theater Troupe, but is focussed on the task at hand.

We are putting our all into this, to have a successful launch,” he said. “After that, I am working on expanding the capability of what we can do. I want to work on getting donors, getting funders, getting sponsors. There are some plays that I am writing that I’m looking to get out into the world. I’m working with some friends who also have some of their works. Nobleman Theater Troupe is really looking to create space for not just pre-existing work, but also new works.”

“The Meeting” will be performed at 2:00 and 7:00 pm on Saturday, February 10 at the Mitby Theater on the Madison College Truax Campus. Each performance will be followed by a talkback with the cast. Tickets are free and can be reserved at this link.