Hippo Manchester
December 22, 2005

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Theater: Three nights, three shows at the Palace

The Meeting, The Duel and The Elephant Man come to Manch

By Robert Greene    rgreene@hippopress.com

Theater fans looking for a little variety could do a lot worse than the Palace Theatre next month.

Next month, the Palace will offer not one, not two, but three different one-night shows for your viewing pleasure. All three shows — The Meeting, The Duel and The Elephant Man — have, or will have, longer runs at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth.

The Meeting

What if the two greatest civil rights icons in United States history, who openly disagreed with one another, had a secret meeting? And what if, during the course of this meeting, each leader gained a greater understanding of the other, and they decided to come together for the greater good?

That’s the premise of The Meeting, an acclaimed drama about a fictitious encounter between civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. It premiered at the Palace last year at this time.

The two men really did meet after a King press conference in 1964 but nobody knows for sure what they talked about. Written by Jeff Stetson, The Meeting is a “what-if” exercise blended with factual elements.

The action takes place in a Harlem hotel, where Malcolm X and his bodyguard, Rashad, are staying. Malcolm has requested a secret meeting with King, who also is in New York,

The two men fall into a spirited debate about their differing approaches to improving the lot of the black man in a predominantly white society — Dr. King hoping to find racial harmony through love and peaceful resistance and Malcolm X reconciled to violence and revenge, if needed. Malcolm X is unable to shake Dr. King’s commitment and composure — even when he defeats him in a bout of arm wrestling. In the play, Malcolm X’s Chicago home has just been fire-bombed and, as he prepares to leave, Dr. King gives him a present: a much-loved doll that his daughter had asked him to give to Malcolm’s. The two men then arm wrestle again, this time to a draw, an act symbolic not only of their clash of wills but also of their conflicting beliefs.

“Malcolm, in this piece, is trying to ruffle Martin’s feathers, get him flustered,” Blair Hundertmark, director of the show, said in an earlier interview. “But Martin is two steps ahead of him just like in a game of chess. It’s a very dense, cerebral play, and I wanted the action to underscore that, but with subtlety.”

The Meeting plays at 7 p.m. Jan. 17, at the Palace, 80 Hanover St. Tickets are $25

The Duel

Aaron Burr (1756-1836) is remembered not so much for his military service and tenure as the third vice president, under Thomas Jefferson, as for his duel with Alexander Hamilton (the guy on the $10 bill).

Jefferson dropped Burr from his ticket for the 1804 election, and Burr ran for governor of New York instead. Hamilton opposed Burr, once his friend, because he believed Burr started a Federalist secession movement in New York. Burr demanded that Hamilton recant the charge but Hamilton, wriggling under a scandal of his own, could not afford to make the gesture. Burr responded by challenging Hamilton to a duel.

On July 11, 1804, the enemies met outside of Weehawken, NJ. Hamilton’s shot went wild but Burr shot and fatally wounded his foe. The bullet entered Hamilton’s abdomen above his right hip, piercing Hamilton’s liver and spine, and he died the following day. Burr later learned that Hamilton intended to avert his fire during the duel. His response: “Contemptible, if true.”

The Duel is an original play about the infamous duel, with music and soundscape composed by Jose Duque. The show kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26, at the Palace. Tickets are $25.

The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick (1862-1890), better known as the Elephant Man, was born in Leicester, England, and began showing signs of deformity at age 5. His mother died when he was 11 and he was forced to live with his father and stepmother. The stepmother did not want him and out the door he went.

Merrick was forced to earn a living by selling shoe polish on the street and then as a sideshow attraction in the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

Merrick was befriended by Dr. Frederick Treves, a physician at London Hospital, where Merrick was given a permanent home. He was something of a celebrity at the time, eventually becoming a favorite of Queen Victoria. Treves later wrote that Merrick always wanted to go to a hospital for the blind — so that he could find a woman who would not be frightened of his appearance. He died in 1890 from suffocation while sleeping. Merrick was unable to sleep horizontally due to the weight of his head, but may have tried to do so to imitate normal behavior, or so the story goes.

Merrick’s life story became the basis of a 1979 Tony Award-winning play, and in the following year an Academy Award-nominated film. In the play, his name was changed, accidentally, to John.

The local production of The Elephant Man is set for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, at the Palace. Tickets are $25. For tickets to any of the above shows, call the Palace box office at 668-5588