THE MOUNTAINTOP explores the moments before a man with all his human gifts and foibles ascends into a mythic figure. Streaming through May 16th, production by American History Theatre, The Roustabouts Theatre Co, and Teenage Youth Performing Arts Theatre Company (TYPA) this play looks at this monumental day in the past and yet still feels very present.
The play opens with Dr. King played by Caiel Noble, at the hotel after having just delivered his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech in support of striking sanitation workers. He is trying to focus on his speech for the next day, but exhaustion from his travels, disappointment in how his last speech was received, and the stress and fear of threats to his life have stretched his nerves tight. He nervously waits for his roommate to return with cigarettes, and flinches at each crack of thunder, so he orders coffee from room service to help steady his nerves and get on with work.
A sassy and spirited hotel maid named Camae, played by Ashley Graham, braves the wind and the rain of the storm outside to deliver him the coffee. At first, she seems a bit cautious and starstruck, and it is her first day on the job, but she quickly warms up.
Camae even has some cigarettes in her apron and is willing to share, and their conversion quickly turns to playful, flirty banter, then into deeper conversations about philosophies, politics, and speeches.
King may be a larger-than-life figure at this point, but Camae is not intimidated by him or her more humble background. She teases him about his smelly feet, and the casual discussion soon escalates into politics, religion, and the future.
The play takes a new turn when Camae accidentally lets something slip that she should not know, and King discovers that she may not be all that she appears to be.
Noble’s King is a compelling balancing act of the man behind the legend. He is neither a symbol nor a saint – he is a man who is driven but tired, weary from carrying the momentum this far but ready and willing to carry it for future generations. His King is powerful, charming, and charismatic, while also impatient, has moments of vanity, and flirts with the hotel maid just after calling home to his wife and kids. Noble smartly doesn’t do an impersonation but finds and accentuates King’s characteristics.
Graham’s Camae is provoking, funny, and ferocious. A highlight is when she delivers a fiery speech as an example of what King should do in the future while standing on the bed with his coat thrown around her shoulders. As the character’s true motives are revealed (not to be spoiled in this review) she is both empathetic and matter-of-fact.
Directed by Kandace Crystal the play is a delicate balance of comedy and drama, all while keeping a steady momentum, with an ever-increasing sense of tension. Her choice in staging the final moments, integrated with video is especially moving.
The play itself feels a bit thin in places and overly chatty in others, but once Camae’s purpose is revealed the play has a tight focus.
The set by Reiko Huffman, the lighting by Mashun Tucker, sound by Marc Akiyama, and Costumes by Beonica Bullard all work together to build a fitting atmosphere.
THE MOUNTAINTOP succeeds in finding a way to emphasize the humanity that made Dr. King great, instead of an elevated but sanitized version that can be presented now.
The ending powerfully demonstrates how progress has been made, but the work and fight against inequalities and institutional racism are still being fought.
THE MOUNTAINTOP is streaming through May 16th. Tickets available now, for access information go to www.themountaintopsd.com
Running time – Approx. 115 minutes
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Written by Katori Hall
Directed by Kandace Crystal
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr . . . Caiel Noble
Camae . . . Ashley Graham
Stage Manager/Fight Choreographer . . . Zack King
Assistant Stage Manager . . . Imahni King-Murillo
Set Design . . . Reiko Huffman
Lighting Design . . . Mashun Tucker
Sound Design . . . Marc Akiyama
Costume Design . . . Beonica Bullard
Dramaturge . . . Kimberly King
Director of Videography/Editor . . .. Michael Brueggemeyer
Scenic Carpenters . . . Stan Soth, Bob Brum, Steve Soth