Kevin Willmott’s world premiere of “Becoming Martin” at the Coterie Theatre is a must-see. Kevin Willmott, professor of Film Studies at the University of Kansas and award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and playwright, has recent work incuding “Chi-Raq” (2015) and “BlacKKKlansman”, co-written with Spike Lee.
His script for “Becoming Martin” has a flow that incorporates feelings and knowledge together, allowing young audiences to become educated and follow along. The play follows the life of young Martin Luther King Jr. beginning at 15, as he starts school at Morehouse College with early admission because of the college’s struggle to retain students due to World War Two.
As many young adolescents, King struggles to find himself and has a rough relationship with his father, Martin Luther King Sr. He would like to plan his son’s future, but fails to guide him, and instead seeks out the college president, Dr. Mays to mentor his son.
With a script that does most of the work for the actors, the portrayal of real people was realistic for some. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, portrayed by Walter Coppage, was indeed a lead, not just in the play but in the history of mentoring King. The actor’s accent was naturalistic, and his way of leading the show and cast was seen on stage.
Coppage’s relationship with fellow actor Sherri Roulette-Mosley, who plays Sadie Mays Dr. Mays wife, was amazing. From the beginning of the play to the end, the chemistry of both actors on stage was realistic.
Roulette-Mosley’s portrayal of Dr. Mays portrayed the sophistication of a supportive southern wife. Through this actress, one was able to see the transformation of tough love to proud moments of Martin.
The character I struggled resonating with was Martin Luther King Jr., also known as M.L., played by Aaron Ellis. The actor came on very strong in the beginning of the play, lacking authenticity. I felt as if the portrayal of Martin were a parody- if anything, it was a little annoying- however, throughout the play, one could get used to this character while supporting characters carried the performance.
The young Martin was one who questioned many things, and wanted to learn so much, just to find out who he was. One of the most challenging lines in the play was, “I can’t find myself to like white people” Martin said, “How do you like a group of people that hate you?” Dr. Mays was able to answer the question in his own philosophical manner of intelligence.
Martin Luther King Sr. (Granville T. O’Neal) and Professor George D. Kelsey (George L. Forbes) were two of the more supporting characters in the production as they carried out two realistic performances.
The play felt as if one were watching on the big screen.
“Becoming Martin” touched on tough topics of race, suicide, death and faith; topics which still find their own way to be educational and sensitive to young audiences.
The piece of work at one point gave an emotional performance when mentioning of the death of a big figure. The cast strong reaction to the news, with real emotions, and hurt, gave me chills.
Being able to see a part of Martin Luther King Jr’s life before he became the monumental figure, allows you to see the unsung heroes that helped create him.
(Photo courtesy of Broadway World)