Martin Luther King is an acknowledged giant, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his extraordinary leadership of the civil rights movement in America. The play is set on the night of his assassination in a Tennessee hotel room on 4 April 1968.
The movement began simply in 1955. Mr King is a pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat for a white man; Rosa becomes the figurehead of a boycott that lasts 381 days in protest against segregation. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People is born and Mr King gets involved as a key member of the South Christian leadership conference.
With a foreshadow of what is about to happen, Mr King muses to himself: “Maybe I have used all my luck up. How long can I keep being lucky?” He speaks warmly of his father, whom he looks up to as a role model: a pastor before him nurturing and grounding him, preparing Mr King Junior unconsciously for the significant work ahead.
The play is an interesting mixture of the personal and political. We expect to hear about Mr King, the star, so I am pleasantly surprised to meet Mr King the son, husband and father. In his conversation with his wife, we sense the man’s vulnerability; the mask drops and we see another side.
But what for me is missing is the philosophy behind Mr King’s message. He does say that all men are created equal, and paints a simple picture of white boys and girls joining hands with black boys and girls. But I want to hear more about his deeper ideology, and perhaps even the faith that underpins it.
Instead, at times, we hear a list of rallies and marches; we’re given a litany of events, rather than a demonstration of the conviction that led Mr King to challenge the authorities and win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s not clear to me from the play how Mr King achieves his success in the face of FBI resistance, and a press who turn away.
However, I recommend this play, written and performed by Christopher Tajah. I am not always the greatest fan of monologues - but Tajah keeps my attention with a polished performance, and delightful musical interludes from his companion.