Many people have read, studied, watched historical news clips, discussed, debated and written about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is not a new subject for literary works or historical research.
Which might make one skeptical about obligating himself to yet another MLK Jr. chronicle.
But The Mountaintop at Actors Theatre isn’t just another Martin Luther King story.
In the play, King says, “In this country, a pulpit is a pedestal.” The Mountaintop takes Martin Luther King Jr. down off of that pedestal and shines a little bit of light on the man that he might have been behind closed doors.
Might have been. Because after all, though this play occurs on the night before King dies in a pretty historically accurate depiction of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the story is mostly the work of playwright Katori Hall’s creative imagination.
Enter Dr. King (Larry Powell), weary and a bit hoarse from his last speaking engagement, coming “home” to a hotel he frequents while on the road. When he calls room service for some coffee to sustain him through his evening’s work, the maid Camae, (real-life beauty Dominique Morisseau) brings him a whole lot more than he ordered.
King and Camae banter, debate and flirt their way through the evening, touching on both the light-hearted and the serious, until the storm outside (both metaphorical and literal) spooks King into a panic, and Camae thrusts the conversation toward the real reason she is there.
Powell has done his homework and has captured the vocal essence of Dr. King. With eyes on fire, he is impassioned and lively one moment, and yielding to the exhaustion of King’s frenetic lifestyle the next.
Morisseau is vibrant and animated; her body language speaks as much as her voice. She delivers on Hall’s script with ease and humor.
The design team’s elements work well together, with the exception of a precariously placed television practically inviting a painful head bump. Media designer Philip Allgeier’s unexpected media montage is powerful and moving.
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall mixes a little bit of history with a lot of fiction. The end result is a play that is both conscience-stirring and humorous; and one that is sure to spark some interesting conversations.
The Mountaintop, winner of the 2010 Olivier Award and directed by Giovanna Sardelli, continues through October 27 at Actors Theatre. Tickets are available at the Actors Theatre box office, online or by calling 502-584-1205. Discount ticket options are available and may be found here.
Image: Courtesy of Actors Theatre