In X: or, Betty Shabazz v. the Nation, witnesses give testimonies that bleed into flashbacks, and the play, blurring the real and the half-remembered and giving voice to subjective truths, pieces together its version of the events leading up to the day of Malcolm X's assassination at Washington Heights's Audubon Ballroom. His wife, Betty Shabazz, prosecutes Malcolm X's former ally Louis X (inspired by now-Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan), whom she adamantly felt was involved in the assassination plot against her husband. Louis X resists her interpretation, calling upon his own witnesses and casting suspicion upon the FBI and NYPD, for whom Malcolm X's bodyguard Eugene Roberts was an informant. Gardley's play, in its courtroom limbo setting, examines the growing adversity between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, the constricting weight of white supremacist society, and the potential of the behemoth institutions that uphold it to distort any story.
The play hinges on the recollections of the widowed Shabazz in the traumatic aftermath of the assassination. (Left to raise six children alone, she eventually went on to earn a doctorate degree in higher education administration and become Director of Institutional Advancement and Public Affairs at Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College.) With Shabazz's memories weaving the story together, X: or, Betty Shabazz v. the Nation centralizes the experience and voice of a figure who had to fight from within the margins of the margins. As one secretary character in the play puts it, "We're women, secretaries, Negroes, and we're Muslim. If there is a low on the totem pole, put us there, or better yet, put us under the pole. No one can see us anyway. We're whispers." In Gardley's play, such "whispers" become booming presences as Shabazz vehemently seeks justice.