Stanford historian's play about Martin Luther King to be performed in East Jerusalem and the West Bank

"Passages of Martin Luther King," written by Clayborne Carson, professor of history at Stanford and director of the Martin Luther King Jr.  Research and Education Institute, will open March 22 for four performances in East Jerusalem before moving to various West Bank venues through April 5.

Stanford's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute is collaborating with the Palestinian National Theatre, Al Hakawati, to produce the first play about the civil rights leader to be performed in Arabic.

"Passages of Martin Luther King," written by Clayborne Carson, a professor of history at Stanford and the director of the King institute, will open March 22 for four performances in East Jerusalem before moving to various West Bank venues through April 5. The play is based on Carson's extensive research as editor of King's papers.

The Palestinian version of Carson's play is being directed by Kamal El Basha and features eight Palestinian actors portraying King, his parents, his wife, Coretta, and other historical figures, such as Malcolm X and President John F. Kennedy.

Six African-American singers have traveled to the Mideast to participate in the production, performing church and freedom songs associated with King's life. Stanford Drama Department lecturer Aleta Hayes will serve as the play's choreographer, working closely with the singers, who depict the choir of King's Ebenezer Baptist Church as well as freedom fighters. The choir includes P. Michael Williams, Steven Wilson and Stanford alumnae Ré Phillips '10 and Chelsi Butler '09. Its musical director is singer September Penn.  

Phillips, Butler and Penn also participated in the National Theatre of China's 2007 international premiere of "Passages," staged in Beijing in 2007. The play was first performed in 1993 by Stanford's Drama Department.

Filmmaker Connie Field will record the cultural exchange using a Palestinian crew. Field's previous films include "Freedom on My Mind," a documentary on the Mississippi civil rights struggle that was nominated for an Academy Award, and a recent series tracing the rise of the international anti-apartheid movement, "Have You Heard from Johannesburg?" 

This is Carson's third trip to the region. As he did during his visit last year, he has scheduled discussions with Palestinian proponents of nonviolence. Before leaving for Jerusalem, Carson expressed hope that "Passages" will "bring King's universal message of nonviolence to Palestinian activists who are currently engaged in their own nonviolent struggle."

"Given recent events in North Africa and throughout the Middle East, I can hardly imagine a more appropriate time for this collaboration between the King institute and the Palestinian National Theatre," he said.

The American Consulate General in Jerusalem is helping to arrange Carson's talks and is co-sponsoring the Palestinian production of the play as part of an effort to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between Palestinians and Americans.

"His visit is timely, given the rapid pace of change in the region, and we hope that through performances of his play and discussions with Palestinian audiences, we will all deepen our understanding of the benefits of nonviolence and the possibilities of achieving change through peaceful means," said Frank Finver, a consulate public affairs officer.

Following the initial performances at the Al Hakawati, "Passages" is scheduled to be staged in Jenin on March 27, Nablus on March 28-29, Bethlehem on March 30-31, Ramallah on April 3 and Hebron on April 5.

Regina Covington, Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, (650) 723-2092,