While Van Leer tours this show to 60 colleges each year, it is far more than an educational experience. The play begins with the plotting of Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, in which slave owners and overseers were attacked and killed. From there, Frederick Douglass recalls his experiences with the notorious “slave breaker” Edward Covey, crediting his refusal to succumb to Covey’s brutality as an important step in establishing his dignity as a human being.
TX: TX:Parallel Entertainment presents a drama in one act by Darryl Van Leer. Directed by Van Leer; Political nationalism is a theme throughout the piece, espoused first by Marcus Garvey and his “Back to Africa” movement. Van Leer portrays Garvey as an eccentric and charismatic, if somewhat comical, figure who nevertheless spoke great truths to his people. Blasting the black leadership of the time, Garvey says, “Any leadership that teaches you to rely on another race will enslave you.”
Malcolm X, given a blood-curdling yet coolly rational effect in Van Leer’s perf, picks up the thread of black nationalism in his dramatized speech about police brutality in Los Angeles. Malcolm denounces the courts and the American justice system, and rails against the “blue-eyed devils.”
However, the tour de force of the evening is Van Leer’s portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church two months before his assassination. King begins quietly, with a gentle discussion of the failings and shortcomings of humans and society as a whole. But his “Drum Major Instinct” speech soon builds to an indictment not only of racial injustice, but of war and hatred at all levels. Finally, the speech becomes an emotional and spiritual catharsis in which King becomes not just a civil rights leader, but a spiritual figure for all time.
While everyone has seen the television clips of King speaking, nothing can prepare one for the power and emotionality that Van Leer delivers in this small theater. He has created a vibrant and transcendent version of King that comes to life very much as he was that day in the Ebenezer Baptist Church.