On an overcast night last weekend in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, the audience for The Mountaintop by Katori Hall found itself in a motel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, back on April 3, 1968. They soon discover that it is the room of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (played at RLT by Christopher Neill Bailey, Sr.), who is ready to unwind after a long day of speechmaking. While awaiting the delivery of some cigarettes, he orders some coffee.
Enter, the chambermaid, Camae (Daphne M. Trevathan). She and Dr. King strike up a lively conversation, smoke a few cigarettes; and, ultimately, they share their views on the American civil rights movement and life. At first, Dr. King is focused on her beauty, but Camae proves that she is more than just a pretty face; and, ultimately, she earns the respect of Dr. King for standing up for what she believes in and sharing her thoughts with him.
Initially, the focus on Dr. King’s philandering ways seemed unnecessary; but, ultimately, I came to appreciate this detail as dramatist Katori Hall’sway of showing that Dr. King was human, a mere mortal, who became saintly. And through Camae, I came to see how lonely King must have been, being away from his family and fighting every day for civil rights.
Through Camae, we also get a glimpse of the struggles of the working class and the limits in life for those who are uneducated, as well as the drive that they need to make ends meet. Camae and Dr. King talk about life, and the audience realizes that Dr. King gave up much for his pursuit of justice and equality for all. His wife and family lived without his daily presence while he travelled the country speaking his truth, working tirelessly and ever hopeful to see the world change — only to meet an untimely death on the second-floor balcony of a lonely motel in Memphis.
As the play unfolds, there is a storm in the air that is making Dr. King uneasy; and the audience realizes that there is some magic in the air as well, when the storyline turns and becomes a question of “what if’s” — what if Dr. King had not been assassinated? What if he had been on the earth a little longer? Would he have seen the changes that he hoped were coming?
If Dr. King knew that it was his last night on earth, what might he have done differently? Could such a moving orator convince God to give him just a little more time to get just a little more done? Who hasn’t wondered about their own life? Given the current state of race relations in our country, it is an interesting thing indeed to speculate about the impact the loss of Dr. King has had on our society. Would we be more enlightened if he had not been shot that fateful day?
Sonya Leigh Drum’s set is first rate, with a terrific 1960s motel sign jutting towards the sky. The details of the well-worn motel room and mid-century furniture provide the perfect backdrop for this place and time.
In a terrific “life-imitates-art” moment, storms in the storyline were amplified by the burgeoning storm clouds over the amphitheater. From the Department of Picky-Picky: The sound volume was sporadic; and there were times when it was very difficult to hear the dialog, especially since the production is staged outside.
Through a terrific use of film clips, viewers move past Dr. King’s assassination and the aftermath: we see where the civil rights movement has been and where we are now.
One can’t help but wonder if we have made any progress at all since the 1960s — with the George Floyd protests, Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, and the growing list of minorities who are the victims of unwarranted violence, it can all be so depressing. But then Dr. King turns to the audience and asks us, no, begs us all to take up the baton, to help move our world to a better place. And we finally see that in the end, Dr. King was just a man who made the decision to take action, who ultimately through grit, and courage and eloquence, became a legend.
Playwright Katori Hall asks us to realize that we can all help pick up Dr. King’s baton and help change the world. For if we all take a step in the right direction, we will be a step further up the hill towards the mountaintop. Through the acts of mere mortals, our world can become the place that Dr. King so famously dreamt that it could become. And that gives me hope.
The show runs through this weekend. Get thee to The Mountaintop, and be prepared to be inspired.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Katori Hall’s THE MOUNTAINTOP (In Person) at 8 p.m. June 17-19 in the Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, NC 27607. TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and seniors 62+). Click here to buy tickets. BOX OFFICE/INFORMATION: 919-821-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: Raleigh Little Theatre. SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/the-mountaintop/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/5460188360720776/. VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.facebook.com/RLT1936/videos/925390804698716. PODCAST: https://anchor.fm/rltpodcast. NEWS RELEASE: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/cast-list-the-mountaintop/. PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org, https://www.facebook.com/RLT1936, https://www.instagram.com/rlt1936/, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, and https://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre. VENUE: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/visit-us/rentals/. DIRECTIONS/MAPS/PARKING: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/visit-us/maps-and-parking/. NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, June 19th, performance. OTHER LINKS: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr. (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.thekingcenter.org/ (The King Center), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr. (Wikipedia). The Mountaintop (2009 West End and 2011 Broadway play): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4384 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-mountaintop-490428 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mountaintop (Wikipedia). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books). Katori Hall (Memphis, TN-born playwright): http://katorihall.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/katori-hall-490430 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2183922/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katori_Hall (Wikipedia). Phillip Bernard Smith (Morrisville, NC director): https://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/phillip-bernard-smith/ (RLT bio), https://mahoganystageproductions.com/abo ut/ (Mahogany Stage Productions bio), https://www.facebook.com/phillip.b.smith.7 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/phillip91138381 (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.