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Katori Hall’s 2009 Two-Character Play, “The Mountaintop,” Treats MLK as a Man, Not as a Saint

MountaintopPOSTER3-JTP2015

The question asked in The Justice Theater Project’s production of Katori Hall’s 2009 two-character play The Mountaintop may well be “Can a flawed man lead society to the mountaintop it so desperately needs to climb?” We Americans love to find the feet of clay that our icons and idols stand on; but this play doesn’t find feet of clay, it finds a once-common preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68), elevated to heights of leadership that he assumed without ambition, and heroically made that leadership serve a unity of our varied peoples rather than a struggle between them.

We find a man of deep passions and appetites, a man more concerned with principles than social niceties, devotion to family than meaningless diversion, the cause to which he was committed than to his place in history. The Mountaintop shows us a man who made time to have fun, and who took great pains in seeking the wisdom he wished to express about our country.

The play is about his last night alive, April 3, 1968. It takes place in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. King encounters an extraordinary young woman, the hotel maid, who generously brings him coffee despite the fact that it is too late for room service. What ensues in purely fictitious, but incredibly insightful.

Jade Arnold, whom we have been following as an actor for a couple of years now, makes his directing debut with this show, and displays a talent in this field as solid as that of performing. Congratulations to him for a fine first time out.

Phillip Bernard Smith, who delivered an amazing performance as Cesar Wilks in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean for ArtsCenter Stage in Carrboro last May, takes on the difficult role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is to his credit that he interprets King, rather than attempting to emulate him. Smith’s comic style brings out King’s spontaneous humor easily, and gives the man — whom we so seldom saw in his own real surroundings — an energy and animation that rings true to the King we think that we understand. Through Smith, we experience the preacher’s frustrations, despondency, fears, joys, family commitment, and devotion to pacifism, plus the strength of his drive for racial equality.

Lakeisha Coffey and Phillip Bernard Smith star "The Mountaintop" for The Justice Theater Project

Lakeisha Coffey and Phillip Bernard Smith star “The Mountaintop” for The Justice Theater Project

The young woman who engages Dr. King’s attentions for this play, Camae, is portrayed by Lakeisha Coffey, whose work in North Carolina is well known to us, most notably, in our opinion, for her powerful performance as Ann Atwater in Best of Enemies. Foul-mouthed and flirty, surprisingly erudite and able to hold her own in argument with Dr. King, Camae is handled by Coffey with stridency and a biting comic delivery. It spoils nothing to exclaim that the pillow fight between these two is deliciously hilarious.

Deb Royal’s set design replicates closely the very room in which the reverend spent his last night, with a couple of double beds, a dresser set with a mirror over it, which the characters make of use of occasionally, typical motel pictures on the wall, and a toilet flush which can be heard in the bedroom.

Light and sound designer Tom Wolf enhances the moods and creates a terrific storm, replete with well-placed thunder and lightning and a snow fall. There is only one weekend left to see this enticing, thought-provoking show.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 9th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/02/09/4542620_theater-review-local-production.html; and Feb. 8th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Spencer Powell: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7246.

The Justice Theater Project presents THE MOUNTAINTOP at 8 p.m. Feb. and 14, 2 p.m. Feb. 15, 8 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21, and 2 p.m. Feb. 22 in Clare Hall in the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.

TICKETS: $22 ($17 students and seniors), except $14 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-264-7089, marketing@thejusticetheaterproject.org, or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1534973670085267/.

PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.

VENUE: http://stfrancisraleigh.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Catholic-Community-of-St-Francis-of-Assisi/172774212838785.

DIRECTIONS/MAPS: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/mapsandphotos.

NOTE 1: There will be a preshow discussion, led by educator and civic leader Dudley Flood, starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 14th.

NOTE 2: There will be a preshow discussion, led by Dr. Richard Lischer, Duke University professor and author of The Preacher King, starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 21st.

NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22nd, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

The Mountaintop (2009 West End and 2011 Broadway play): http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=490429 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mountaintop (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Katori Hall (playwright): http://katorihall.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katori_Hall (Wikipedia).

Jade Arnold (director): https://www.facebook.com/ActorJadeArnold (Facebook page).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68): http://www.thekingcenter.org/ (The King Center) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr. (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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