Review: GHOST OF KING at Oakland Theater Project

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By: Jun. 09, 2024
Review: GHOST OF KING at Oakland Theater Project
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Review: GHOST OF KING at Oakland Theater Project
Michael Wayne Turner III in GHOST OF
KING at Oakland Theater Project
Photo Credit: Ben Krantz Studio

Captivating from start to finish, GHOST OF KING brings the power of MLK’s words to life. Whether you are familiar with King’s speeches and sermons or not, the show provides all you need to understand the dilemma at hand. In a time where MLK is memorialized on street corners nationwide and with an annual holiday, we rarely take time to listen to his message beyond convenient sound bites and taglines. GHOST OF KING seeks to put the context and thus the heart back into King’s message and deliver it with urgency.

The show centers on the last sermon given by MLK at the National Cathedral, just four days before his assassination. However, it is how the sermon is encased and contextualized that give the show its real power. Rev. Ghost is a contemporary clergyman and presents his own sermon that seeks to discover why a non-violent man such as King would be assassinated. The audience is immersed into the setting which includes a hymn. Ghost believes that the answer may lie in King’s last sermon. Rev. Ghost reenacts the sermon along with the occasional asides and piercing stare when King’s words hit hard at the untended wounds of racial injustice and economic inequality. Projections of King and stylized movement bookend the show giving life to emotions which have no words.

GHOST OF KING is the brainchild of Michael Wayne Turner III. He deftly presents both Rev. Ghost and Rev. King as read by Ghost, seamlessly slipping between the two personas and voices. He speaks to you not as an audience but as members of the congregation. He uses a preacher’s tools such as pause and repeat to hammer home his points. His sermon as Ghost is rapid-fire, melodic, and as potent as anything Kendrick Lamar or Tupac have written. And while his use of King’s words underscore and affirm his message, it is perhaps his movements that leave the biggest impression. As a society we are upended, turned around, staggering, wandering, going in circles with no clear path to King’s mountaintop.

The production of GHOST OF KING includes a very simple scenic design. There is a centered platform with steps on each side and a lectern or pulpit in the middle.The space is lined with candles of different heights to give it the feeling of a church. The back wall is used for projections with different degrees of visibility depending on where you sit. The lighting design is nuanced and shifts with every subtle change in mood. While Michael Wayne Turner III does the heavy lifting of writing, acting, and self-directing, he does incorporate the work of choreographer Keren Southall which elevates the entire show and gives it a different dimension of experience. If I had one wish for something different from a production standpoint, it would have been for a closing speech by Rev. Ghost to mirror his opening speech, but done in light of having just spoken King’s words. It is rare to want more from a show, usually one thinks of edits that were needed. But for me, I wanted to hear Ghost one last time, a contemporary reflection on King’s words and how we honor him, but completely fail to fix the issues he so eloquently illuminated. One last bit from Ghost, with his words left hauntingly hanging in the air before the final movement piece would have been for me a transcendent moment. I hope the show will continue to refine and polish and make its way to bigger stages.

GHOST OF KING is a poignant piece of theater. Brimming with energy and careful choices, it is a show in which every word matters. It is a show that calls us not only to remember but to reexamine. It challenges a society that honors King while refusing to take up the mantle of his work. Beautifully told, tragically honest, GHOST OF KING rings true and clear.


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