Memphis, Tennessee. April 3, 1968. Rain pouring down. The Lorraine Motel. A shabby but orderly hotel room. One occupant: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. .He has just delivered his epic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon to a huge church congregation. It’s his last night on earth. Did he have premonitions? Did he call home? Who did he spend the evening with, or was he alone? What if….
It’s a brilliant set-up for a ninety-minute play, bubbling over with dramatic tension. Katori Hall, playwright, has explained she wrote The Mountaintop inspired by her mother’s regret at missing Dr. King’s famous speech: http://youtu.be/e0NHUX3eMeA In 2010 the play won London’s distinguished Olivier Award for Best New Play and went on to a successful run on Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Since then it has become one of the most produced, sell-out productions in professional regional theatres across the US. See it in Oklahoma City through February 15 and then in Guthrie, Oklahoma, February 20 through 28 in a co-production between Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, The Pollard Theatre and The Poteet Theatre. Don’t miss out like playwright Katori Hall’s mother did in 1968. Take in this intimate, fresh, astonishing, transcendent work of art that captures an American visionary leader in very human moments full of grace and magic right before he makes that final climb to the summit.
The scene opens on a bone-weary Dr. King, working on his next sermon in his motel room, getting irritated and wondering when his assistants will join him with more Pall Mall cigarettes and coffee. Dallas-based stage director Rene Moreno cast The Pollard Theatre’s Artistic Director W. Jerome Stevenson as Dr. King, an imposing, resonant-voiced powerhouse. Stevenson prowls the room like an exhausted lion, first peering out into the night through the motel’s curtains, relieving himself in the room’s adjacent bathroom, reviewing his moustache in the room’s vanity mirror, and glancing at the pages of unfinished sermon next to his open briefcase on a bed. Stevenson radiates accustomed command in his portrayal (a hint of the giant-sized icon King has become) yet reveals an unexpectedly vulnerable level of overwhelmed bewilderment, a very tired man left very alone in a seedy hotel room. His Dr. King teeters near the top of that mile-high precipice, unable to put down his monstrous burden, almost breathless as he prepares for whatever comes next. Whatever that may be. Impatient, restless, sexy, funny, compassionate, defiant — Stevenson inhabits a Dr. King who really might have existed, away from the publicized pulpits, flashing light bulbs and confrontational marches to Selma.
In frustration, Dr. King telephones the motel office to have room service deliver hot coffee. As if by magic, room service appears bearing coffee (and cigarettes) in the form of an attractive, smart-alecky, potty-mouthed maid named Camae. It’s her first day on the job, so she doesn’t want to linger. But. There are some things she wants to discuss with Dr. King. And some very surprising things she wants to show him. Dr. King does not intimidate or overawe Camae. As in life, not everything is exactly as it seems. Director Rene Moreno cast versatile Dallas actor Junene K. as Camae. She brings the right combination of grit, candor and nuanced mystery to the role to carry the audience along, spellbound, as her role in the evening’s events unfolds and evolves. Even as it remains firmly grounded in life’s reality, Katori Hall’s play soars to Dr. King’s mountaintop with these two actors’ natural, focused, carefully crafted performances. The audience can’t help getting swept along on the work’s inspiring arc to a promising future. They walk out of the theatre with Dr. King’s prophetic words lending buoyancy to their step. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
American Theatre Online feature on this Oklahoma co-production:
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall: Directed by Rene Moreno, Set Design by Ben Hall, Costume Design by Michael James, Lighting Design by Adam Chamberlin, Sound Design by Steve Emerson, Properties Design by Timothy Stewart. Production Stage Manager is Steve Emerson.
The Mountaintop will be presented first in the Freede Little Theatre at The Civic Center Music Hall located at 201 N Walker Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73102 (February 6th through February 15th).
It moves then to The Pollard Theatre at 120 West Harrison Avenue, Guthrie, OK 73044 (February 20th through February 28th)
Recommended for mature audiences. Adult language and situations.
TICKET INFO: Tickets for the Oklahoma City run of The Mountaintop may be purchased by calling the Civic Center Box Office at (405) 297-2264 or online at http://www.cityrep.com.
Tickets for the Guthrie run of The Mountaintop may be purchased by calling The Pollard Theatre Box Office at (405) 282-2800 or purchased online at http://www.thepollard.org.
Photos by Mutz Photography