Front Row Reviews

“Ghost of King” Awakens King’s Powerful Passion for Humanity

Michael Wayne Turner III as Martin Luther King Jr.

Thanks to the Producer, Xavier Rernard Cunningham, and the endless talent of writer, performer, Michael Wayne Turner III, we are touched to be present at Martin Luther King Jr’s last sermon.

At Oakland Theatre Project, we sit waiting for the reading to begin. We hear the rap music of Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, a rapper who believes in “becoming what we are.” We see Turner as King standing at the podium in deep meditation. Candles abound under the podium and line the base of the walls in homage to a great man. A fog thickens in the room as if we have entered a different world.

With exuberance and devotion to changing the frayed cloth of humanity, Turner as King, draws us immediately back to 1968. As the show begins, he trots around the stage as a video displays on the back wall of the 1968 racial riots. His pace turns frantic as the violence on the screen worsens. Tears flow from his eyes as we see Martin Luther King resting in his coffin. The angle of the screen gives the immediate impression that we are standing over MLK looking down on his final state of rest.


Standing above us at a stark white podium, King speaks as the pastor, asking his congregation to rise.

A song plays in the background. King’s words are like poetry and rap, and always full of warning and hope.

King’s intensity never wavers, nor does his connection to the audience. Sometimes we are spellbound and other times we shake our heads in agreement. Yet, we sense Martin Luther King is speaking directly to us from the grave. Turner, as King, steps outside of the speech at times to make humorous quips about a statement or how he feels—much like I imagine King did to touch his congregation. He pulls the audience closer to him, too, with his authenticity.

“Chapter 21 in Revelations says: ‘Make all things new, former things pass away.'” Yet, he expounds on history with Rip Van Winkle who slept 20 years as an example. “He missed a revolution. George Washington slept through a revolution, too, as well as social change.”

There are similar lessons for the world today. Lessons he spotlighted in his 1968 speech. “No nation or person can live alone … the world is a neighborhood … live as brothers or perish as fools.” “Everyone must share the guilt—the government and the church must share the guilt.”

As he rails against poverty and war, he strikes home with his statement, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” It feels as though we are now standing on the precipice of a global war. Are we uninvolved? Do we live as brothers and sisters, or are we fools sleeping through an explosion of social change?

The brow-raising ending depicts history’s interpretation of the social changes.   

Michael Wayne Turner III is Martin Luther King Jr. No doubt. What I enjoyed more than the eloquence and truth of the words, and the excellence of the total performance, is feeling I met this dynamic man, and I felt sorrow for his untimely death.

Everyone should see this show. No doubt.

“Ghost of the King” written by Michael Wayne Turner III, produced by Xavier Rernard Cunningham, Videographers Adam Elder Montanaro & Aminah Muhamuad, Sound Designer Miles Dotson, Lighting Consultant Stephanie Anne Johnson, Choreographer Karen Southall, at Oakland Theatre project, Info: to June 23

Cast: Michael Wayne Turner III

Photos by Ben Kranz Studio