Keeping the dream alive: Mixed Blood Theatre Dr. King production perfect prelude to Black History MonthWarren C. Bowles delivered a chilling performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Mixed Blood Theatre production, Dr. King’s Dream, at Alexandria Technical and Community College on Tuesday night.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Warren C. Bowles delivered a chilling performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Mixed Blood Theatre production, Dr. King’s Dream, at Alexandria Technical and Community College on Tuesday night.
A room full of pale faces stared at a lone black man. Not uncommon in the 1950s and not uncommon in Alexandria today. Over the course of one hour, that one man took the audience on a journey through Dr. King’s last moments on earth.
The scene is set simply with a wooden chair, a podium, a table, coffee cup and a telephone on which Bowles, as King, is speaking with his mother as the production begins. He is in Memphis, Tennessee at the Lorraine Motel. It is April 4, 1968.
As the play is written, one of King’s colleagues asks if he’s ever been afraid. “King” tells of times when he should have been afraid: being arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, threats on his life and when he was stabbed in Harlem. Events are expanded with audio excerpts booming out of a nearby speaker, “I Have A Dream” of course is one of the sound bites.
Bowles glided seamlessly between conversing with his invisible counterparts at the hotel and telling stories of the civil rights movement to the present-day audience in the room. Despite distractions, Bowles never lost character; he remained immersed in King’s story. The modest crowd of about 40 people gave Bowles a standing ovation.
Dr. King’s Dream is part of the 2012-2013 Mixed Blood Theatre regional tour. Bowles has portrayed the iconic black leader for more than 30 years – this is his final tour. He joined the Mixed Blood company in 1977 and has played Dr. King since 1980.
“Over the years, the audience has changed quite a lot,” Bowles said. The more years that go by, the less people remember. Bowles said he used to hear a gasp when “King” steps onto the balcony, usually when he performed for predominantly black audiences.
Bowles shared a story about presenting to one classroom where children had never seen an African American person. “Wow, it’s a nigger,” one boy said to another. Bowles said it was the boys’ genuine shock and awe at seeing a black man for the first time in their lives that struck him, not the derogatory reference.
“The problem is they’re using their parents' terminology,” Bowles said.
Since joining Mixed Blood, Bowles noted that the productions have moved beyond the idea of just race. In addition to acting, Bowles wrote the play African America and directed Daughters of Africa, which are also part of the Mixed Blood Theatre regional lineup.
The one-man version of Dr. King’s Dream was devised by Mixed Blood artistic director Jack Reuler. The first showing was at a school in St. Paul. Technician Philip Marten and stage manager Raul Ramos accompanied Bowles on the tour to Alexandria. Bowles and Ramos are members of the Actors’ Equity Association. For more information on the Mixed Blood Theatre, visit www.mixedblood.com, e-mail email@example.com or call (888) 338-0937.
Dr. King’s Dream was brought to Alexandria through a partnership with the Inclusion Network (IN). The IN, previously called the Diversity Resource Action Alliance, is an organization that aims to make central Minnesota an inclusive and welcoming place for people of all backgrounds to live and work. For more information on the IN, visit www.inclusionnetwork.org.