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A CurtainUp Review
The Man in Room 306
Set in the Memphis hotel where King spent his last night before his assassination, this is a long monologue addressed to an invisible audience. Edwards as King reveals much that we already know: He was not exactly a faithful husband. He was under close FBI surveillance. He was wary of the Black Power movement, which in fact did eventually destroy and temporarily supplant his own.
But there is also much here that is original. According to Edwards, King needed pills to sleep, was a clandestine smoker, believed that pigeons had a special spiritual significance in his life and longed to be a baseball player or an opera singer. What's more, he had a difficult relationship with his father and at one time wanted to marry a white girl, a waitress who his friends thought was beneath him. And most amazing, lots of his books were ghost written.
If Edwards did any research for his show, surely he should tell his audience. If he didn't, what is the value of a show based on speculation? The lack of factual backup is in itself is disturbing, but even more so is the way in which Edwards chose to humanize his subject with traits such as the tendencey to bear petty grudges, vanity and the refusal to speak in front of small crowds.
King performs a sexy imitation of Marilyn Monroe singing her famous Happy Birthday song to John Kennedy. He recounts with glee a practical joke he played on the Reverend Abernathy. He stands on his head to get rid of hiccups. He takes great joy in potty humor. At one point Edwards has King imitate President Johnson, saying, "My fella Americans. We can't have thousands of those crazy Negroes — naw, naw he'd say niggers!" To have King imply thq5 President Johnson, the man who worked so hard to pass the massive civil rights legislation, would call African-Americans "niggers" is an insult to the memory of both men.
In between crude jokes, and moments of despair and panic, King is shown to display some concern for the people he is leading. But it is almost impossible to reconcile the childish whiner with the courageous leader Edwards would have us believe King was.
The last image we have of is Edwards on tape, delivering King's final address in which he says, "But oh my friends, I must confess to you tonight, that sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I get discouraged. But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain." Is this a man who would say,"Late one night we were drinking beer and getting loud outside the barracks, when out of nowhere a bright light blinded us. From it emerged a policeman, flashlight in hand! Now we weren't arrested, but here was a report. And I knew if Daddy King saw it I'd better give my life to Jesus, cause my ass was gonna be his?"
It would have helped, perhaps, if Cheryl Katz, who directs Edwards, had put a damper on some of his excesses. As it is, she allows him to work against both himself and the man he portrays.