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Theatre Review: Mountaintop



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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a great speech with a famous line:
 
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop." (Cheers).
 
Katori Hall's play "The Mountaintop" begins hours afterward, as the weary, unexalted King retreats into a grubby motel room. He checks to see if the FBI has bugged the phone, sends a friend to buy cigarettes, and orders coffee from room service. It's delivered by a pretty maid named Camae, who is in awe of the famous guest. But she also remarks on the preacher's lingering glances.
 
Camae: "Are you blushin'??"

MLK: "Which is hard for a black man to do. I'm embarrassed."

Camae: "Sugar, shush. You just a man. If I was you, I'd be starin' at me, too."

As this imagined conversation expands, Camae tells the Reverend she thinks God is a woman. The feisty Camae uses some street language you wouldn't hear in church. And as things loosen up, King and Camae relate as equals, discussing how high-minded civil rights rallies sometimes morphed into riots.

Camae: "Walking will only get us so far, Preacher King."

MLK: "We're not walking, we're marching."

Camae: "Whatever it is . . . it ain't working."

MLK: "It doesn't work when you have trifling negros who use a peaceful protest to get a free color television."

Camae: "Who did that?"

MLK: "Just last week, my men…"

Gradually, what began as an invented exchange between strangers turns into a visionary parable, as it becomes clear that Camae is there for a reason. Not all of the playwright's musings about history and fate pan out. But I liked the lively exchanges between the performers, and director Anthony D'Juan skillfully guides the shift from docudrama into fable.
 
This play infuses history with earthy humor, and even though the action unfolds in a motel room, it gets pretty cosmic. So lean back and enjoy the imaginative ride - you won't regret it.
 
"The Mountaintop" continues at Capital Stage in Sacramento through April 21st.  
 
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NPR webpage with video highlights of King's speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop," the complete text, etc.

American Radio Works page with more material on King's last days in Memphis
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