BWW Review: BECOMING MARTIN at The Coterie Theatre

BWW Review: BECOMING MARTIN at The Coterie Theatre

The Coterie Theatre opens its 40th Anniversary Season with Award-Winning World Premiere "Becoming Martin". Written by noted local writer/filmmaker, Kevin Willmott, the play reveals the details of how Martin Luther King, Jr. came to be mentored by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, President of Morehouse College. In 1944 a 15-year-old MLK enters college (after twice skipping grades in high school!). Young MLK struggles with typical teenage decisions including what occupation he will pursue (doctor, lawyer, or ???). BWW Review: BECOMING MARTIN at The Coterie Theatre

Willmott's writing humanizes this iconic historical figure by weaving elements of MLK's personal life that are often overlooked (did you know he played the violin?). By doing so, Willmott makes each character more approachable for younger audience members who may not have had a chance to study them. The play reflects the effects of Jim Crow era racism without preaching about it. Rather, it is seen in the eyes of a developing young man who struggles to make the past not repeat itself. Under the careful guidance of his father and the tutelage of Dr Mays. Mays ability to focus young MLK's intellect into a purposeful and directed path sets the course for his successful future in the fight for civil rights and justice.

BWW Review: BECOMING MARTIN at The Coterie TheatreThe ensemble performing this show is a masterful bunch under the astute direction of Chip MIller. The show opens to a beautifully crafted stage set that creates a dramatic scene. Kansas City favorite, Walter Coppage, plays Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, as a forward thinking leader who is solidly grounded. By portraying the strength of wisdom Coppage proves an elegant guide for the often unwieldy Martin. Watching Coppage work his craft is magical, as he paints a portrait as stalwart as those hanging in the historic halls of academia.

The Coterie makes yet another fine discovery as it debuts Aaron Ellis (as MLK, Jr.) in his first Kansas City role. Ellis embraces the role with the enthusiasm as he deftly moves from tussled teen to budding wise sage. Ellis exhibits his emotional range effectively as he peels away the tougher surface of young MLK to show his personal inner fear and uncertainty.

Granvile T. O'Neal (as MLK, Sr., is the often over-reaching parent who knows what he wants for his willful child. In traditional Baptist Preacher mode he pushes his son to make smart decisions, which of course include his desire to have him follow in his footsteps. O'Neal gives Senior the aplomb indicative of both a protective parent and religious leader. O'Neal seems so ministerial in his approach that it begs the audience to wonder if he wasn't plucked right from church mid-sermon!

Sherri Roulette-Mosley (as Sadie Mays) gives Mrs Mays the cordial congeniality and warmth that make her endearing from her earliest appearance in the play. Roulette-Mosley partners well with Coppage and shows how women of that era so subtly worked their wiles. Her performance gives levity to the more dramatic moments reminding us of those special people who simply brighten the room with their presence.

George L. Forbes (as Professor George D. Kelsey) is engagingly perceptive in his recognition of the potential of young Martin as a force in the world of religion. Forbes gives the audience ample reason to understand why he so strongly wants MLK to not only succeed, but lead. In this performance Forbes illustrates well the teamwork needed to shape a young life and polish it to a brilliant finish.

BWW Review: BECOMING MARTIN at The Coterie Theatre

Director Chip Miller's artistic team includes: Danielle Renee - Production, Jordan Janota - Set Designer, Kellie Fox - Associate Scenic Designer, Jarrett Bertoncin - Lighting Designer, Georgianna Londre Buchanan - Costume Designer, David Kiehl - Sound Designer, Scott Hobart - Technical Director, Joyce Merrill - Properties/Set Dressing, Scott Stack House - Dialect Coach, Amanda Kibler - Content Editor, House Managers - Melissa Trierweiler, Lydia Miller, Alex Walters, Andy Perkins, Michael James, and Martin Buchanan

Becoming Martin is more a coming of age story than history lesson. Written with families with children ages 11 and older in mind, the show is performing through October 21, 2018 (75 minute run time without intermission).

Performances are at the Coterie Theatre, level one of Crown Center, at 2450 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO, June 19 through August 5th, 2018. For tickets call the box office at (816) 474-6552 or online:

Photos by J. Robert Schraeder courtesy of Coterie Theatre

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From This Author Paul Bolton

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