Merlene Davis: Message Theatre founder returns with 'The Meeting'

Actor wants venue to showcase black talent

Herald-Leader columnistJanuary 6, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Jeff Stetson's The Meeting, the first performance by the recently revived Message Theatre, depicting a fictional meeting between Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.

    When: 7 p.m. Jan. 17; 2 and 7 p.m. Jan. 18.

    Where: Farish Theater in the Central Library, 140 E. Main St.

    Information: Call (347) 645-9054.

Some may remember Patrick J. Mitchell as "Fryday," the Sunday afternoon DJ on WCKU-102 FM who served up oldies for a loyal following.

Others may remember him as an actor who immersed himself in roles such as Othello when he lived in Lexington 20 years ago.

And still others may recall him as a stand-up comedian who toured the country with the likes of Sinbad and Jamie Foxx.

Well, Mitchell has returned and is knee-deep in reviving Message Theatre, which he helped establish in the late 1980s along with director William Caise, writer Frank X Walker and actor Keith Griffith.

Message Theatre was a black theater group that showcased talented black actors and black playwrights, including Walker as writer-in-residence, and produced works about the lives of black people.

By 1994, however, the group had pretty much disappeared.

"We all kind of went our different ways," said Mitchell, who had moved back to New York to see where his talents would lead. "I've got to admit I had some really nice success there. I am happy with my success there."

Mitchell performed off-Broadway in various theaters, including the Billie Holiday Theater, and has had roles in movies, most recently in The Legend of Jimi Lazer, an independent film by CubeCity Entertainment and Curium Films which won in the Best Film-Adventure Category at the Manhattan Film Festival in June.

But before that, Mitchell's mother, who had relatives in Lexington, sent him here from Harlem for his last year of high school. He played basketball at Kentucky State University and joined a student acting troupe there. That's where he began to study method acting, totally identifying with his character.

Before heading to New York, Mitchell portrayed Malcolm X in Jeff Stetson's The Meeting, a one-act play depicting a fictitious meeting between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The meeting takes place in a Harlem hotel room in 1965, the night after Malcolm's house was bombed and the week before he was killed at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. The play explores the philosophical differences that separated the two men.

"I did the role here 20 years ago," he said. "It is not a big cast and there is not a big budget."

And that made it perfect for the first production of the newly revived Message Theatre. Griffith plays King in the play, which will be performed at the Farish Theater in the downtown public library on Jan. 17 and 18.

While performing will help satisfy his artistic side, Mitchell said he also wants the theater group to continue its first mission: to help educate children in the performing arts and to help black actors gain a bigger foothold here.

"I plan to hold classes and I hope to work with the Lexington Children's Theater and the entertainment community," said Mitchell, who moved back to Lexington in October after retiring.

He wants to make the theater company self-sufficient so that younger people can take over the reins. He also envisions teaching young people to build and design sets as well as perform in plays.

"At some point, I would love to be an intricate part of the regional theater and involve professional actors," he said.

But for now, he wants to give Lexington an idea of the talent that is here.

Performances for The Meeting are free.


IF YOU GO

What: Jeff Stetson's The Meeting, the first performance by the recently revived Message Theatre, depicting a fictional meeting between Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 17; 2 and 7 p.m. Jan. 18.

Where: Farish Theater in the Central Library, 140 E. Main St.

Information: Call (347) 645-9054.


Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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