Be honest with yourself. You hear about a new play that deals with the Reverend Martin Luther King's last night prior to his assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and the only other character is a hotel maid. What do you imagine the play will be about.
Well, I was surely surprised to see such a riveting play that deals with the realization that all celebrities, whether politicians or ministers all have their foibles.
Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah takes on the role of Director of this 90 minute intermission-less play that was honored in England with the Olivier Award for Best New Play written by young playwright Katori Hall who was still in her twenties and a novice when the play opened in London. He chose wisely adding this play to his initial season as Artistic Director.
THE MOUNTAINTOP has been on Broadway in a production that starred two outstanding actors, Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. The buzz in Baltimore was what would this play really be about.
Kwei-Armah (fresh from his receiving the OBE designation at Buckingham Palace) should be applauded for bringing this fresh look at the Reverend King (if you visit the King Memorial in Washington, DC notice that there is no mention of him being a Reverend). He has selected a cast that is impressive. Shawn Hamilton as King is just plain sensational in his characterization of this iconic individual. He recently appeared as King at the Guthrie Theater in APPROMATTOX. Playing the maid is Myxolydia Tyler who happens to play a dual role which I will not reveal.
The play is set in the hotel room of King at the Lorraine Hotel (now a museum) on April 3, 1968, the night before he is shot on the hotel balcony. King arrives after speaking before a few thousand people about the sanitation workers' strike in Memphis. One can hear him yell from his room to Ralph Abernathy to get him is favorite cigarettes, Pall Malls. He calls the hotel for room service for some coffee and maid Camae arrives using the April 4th newspaper (published the night before) to protect her from a rain storm.
To say she is a character is an understatement. King is exhausted, frustrated about his appeal to his "flock", and wonders if his sermons stressing non-violence are working. Before Camae arrives, he practices sayings like "Why America is going to hell."
I really believed I was watching the actual Dr. King on stage, Hamilton is that believable in this tough role.
The two actors are literally on stage the entire evening, a remarkable feat. There's even a pillow fight which thanks to Dramaturg Gavin Witt was based on a factual event with Andrew Young.
After you see this play, you will never think of King the same way again.
Kudos to Projections Designers Kate Freer and Alex Koch, Lighting Designer Scott Zielinski and Sound Designer Victoria Delorio (get ready for a lot of thunder and lightning).
There will be AfterThoughts, post-show discussions following the 2 p.m. performance on February 3 (you'll have plenty of time to get home for the Superbowl) and following the 7 p.m. performance on February 7.
THE MOUNTAINTOP continues to February 24, 2013. (It will also be presented at the Arena Stage in DC in the spring). For tickets call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
Center Stage is offering a "Legacy Package" to see THE MOUNTAINTOP, Pulitzer-Prize and Tony Award winner CLYBOURNE PARK (April 10 to June 16), and the World Premiere of BENEATHA'S PLACE by Kwei-Armah (April 10 to June 16). You can see all three of these plays for $99 for a limited time.
Don't forget the Baltimore Sun Auction for Center Stage goes live Sunday, February 10 and closes on Monday, February 25 at wwww.centerstage.org/auction.