Schaumburg-based Powerhouse Productions' 2018 Black History Month play will recognize the 50th anniversary of the death of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the 20th anniversary of the theater company itself.
Writer/director/producer Maurice D. Proffit said the dual anniversary was somewhat coincidental. His inspiration for "Last Night as King: The Final 24 Hours of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." was to do something special for the 20th birthday of the troupe established by his mother, Valerie Proffit.
"Everything I've written before was fictional," said the 36-year-old playwright. "This is my first period piece."
The show will be performed at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court in Schaumburg.
Proffit said this is his first play that required months of intensive research before the writing started. But his enthusiasm for the subject proved infectious as his actors excitedly shared at each rehearsal what they were learning independently about the real people they were portraying.
Though the events of the play lead up to a tragic episode in American history, it also includes moments of levity, humor and even singing as Proffit depicts the many sides of a man who wasn't preaching 24 hours a day.
King was not much older when he died than Proffit is today. The writer said he wanted to show that while the people King traveled with helped him in his work, they also were friends with whom the minister enjoyed spending time and joking around.
While the topics of many Powerhouse Productions plays may seem deep and mature, they are suitable for audiences of all ages, including this one, Proffit said.
Indeed, he hopes children in the audience will identify with and be inspired by an 8-year-old girl in the cast who delivers an amazing, powerful monologue.
The cast features actors of different races and ages, emphasizing the universality of King's work and legacy, Proffit said.
"It's a beautiful cornucopia of just so much talent and levels of experience," he added. "You're going to see a piece of yourself on that stage no matter who you are."
While much of the visual vibrancy of the production comes from its late-'60s costumes and design, it also shows the similarities to the present in how people of all backgrounds have come together to fight for what's right, Proffit said.
"I want people to see this story come to life," he said. "It should empower them. As the writer and director, I want to make sure people go home being fulfilled."
Tickets cost $10 and are available at bsideproduction.com.