Danny Glover is not too old for this shit.
The actor, best-known for his work in the “Lethal Weapon” series, which spawned his famous catchphrase, joined Felix Justice onstage in Kendall Hall on Thursday night, captivating the crowd with their long-running show, “An Evening with Martin and Langston.”
This was their third appearance at the College, which culminated the celebration of Black History Month, as the two performed a series of readings from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and poet Langston Hughes.
Justice as King took the stage first in front of a packed crowd, capturing attention with his dapper suit, powerful voice and dramatic gestures. Audience members looking for King’s famous “I Have a Dream,” speech were treated to a different kind of presentation, as Justice recited the anti-Vietnam War speech King gave on April 30, 1967 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
“That speech makes people feel good,” Justice said in a pre-performance interview, adding that he wanted to challenge people’s preconceptions about King and expose elements of his message that are more subversive than King’s most famous speech.
“Martin Luther King challenged people . I really want to try to capture his passion,” Justice said in the interview.
He continued, “Martin Luther King was Jesus Christ as a revolutionary. . His concern was always for the disenfranchised.”
The speech drew eerie parallels between the Vietnam War and today’s occupation in Iraq, with King, more than 40 years earlier, calling the war “wasteful, illegal and immoral,” a charge often leveled at the Iraq war by its opponents.
In the Q-and-A session following the performance/lecture, one woman commented on the similarities between the two wars, prompting Justice to dryly comment, “Gee, you think?”
Glover, commemorating Langston Hughes, followed Justice, and asked for another round of applause for the man he considers one of his best friends. He started off by reading Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” reciting in his soothing cadence, “I’ve known rivers:/ I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins/ My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Glover, who has been performing the show with Justice for 17 years, called Hughes, a social and cultural leader in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, “the author of poems of touching lyricism.”
He drew much applause with his recitation of “The Weary Blues,” a poem about listening to an old blues singer one night in Harlem. With its repetition and sense of rhythm, the poem invokes the melancholy of this musical style, as Glover softly and sadly crooned, “Got the weary blues/ Can’t be satisfied/ I ain’t happy no mo’/ And I wish that I had died.”
After the two performances, Glover and Justice sat down for a Q-and-A session that quickly became spirited and provocative. It started innocently, with audience members asking questions specifically about poetry and Justice’s process of reading between the lines of King’s speeches.
“We are at a little bit of an advantage and a little bit of a disadvantage . because we are old,” Justice said to laughter as he described delivering King’s message after hearing and revering his speeches while growing up in the ’60s.
One of the evening’s highlights came when one audience member, who identified himself as a student from Mercer County Performing Arts High School, asked Glover and Justice for advice they would give to a potential actor.
“I would advise you to know some Langston Hughes,” Justice said.
“I do,” answered the student, as he launched into a powerful performance of Hughes’ “Dream Variation,” eliciting thunderous applause for the courageous teen.
However, much of the remaining discussion focused on political, racial and class issues in America, topics that Glover, known for his social activism, spoke candidly and at length about.
“I want students always, wherever they are, to challenge the status quo and listen to their own vision,” Glover said in the pre-show interview.
Many questions centered on the upcoming presidential election and candidate Barack Obama, whose charisma and youth have elicited comparisons to King.
“I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison at all,” Justice said. “That combination of passion and extremely sharp intelligence is very fair.”
As Justice and Glover discussed topics like racial politics, sustainable development and global warming, one woman in the audience did her best to break up the serious tone the night had taken:
“Mr. Glover, I’ve been in love with you since ‘Lethal Weapon.'”