BWW Reviews: THE MOUNTAINTOP an Uplifting Effort from Actors Theatre
Even saints wear holes in their socks.
This is only the simplest of images conveyed in Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," a probing and moving examination of DR. Martin Luther King Jr. that contrasts the man and the myth, the sinner and the saint, the fallen leader and the enduring icon.
Hall's play, winner of the Best New Play prize at the 2009 Olivier Awards (England's highest theatrical honors), imagines an encounter between King and a maid at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis the night before his assassination. With energetic staging and abundant imagination from director Giovanna Scardelli, Hall's script challenges cherished notions of who King was by presenting the whole picture of the man and elevating the power of his convictions and the significance of his legacy.
Embodying an icon by finding both the beauty and the warts is no easy assignment, and Larry Powell is gripping as Dr. King. He makes perfect sense out of a man of God who drinks and smokes, a shameless adulterer who desperately hopes to see his wife and children again, who orates with beauty and passion as he cowers from every clap of rifle-like thunder.
Dominique Morisseaux is a firecracker as Camae, the maid who has come to deliver more than just coffee. Camae by turns venerates, challenges and comforts him. Morisseaux creates a palpable chemistry with Powell when there are no words. Together, they take the audience from moments of uproarious laughter to a soul-swelling climax.
All this is not to say "The Mountaintop" is an easy ride. It challenges the audience both with content and execution. For its fictional premise, the play begins firmly rooted in realism. The characters' interaction and the exploration of King's mission are positively captivating. Nothing will be spoiled here, but about halfway in "The Mountaintop" transforms into a much different style of play. The effect is a bit jarring as fantastical elements come into play that briefly tread toward a too-light preciousness, but Hall and Sardelli keep things on track as the new environment only heightens the stakes for King as he faces the future, both his and his nation's.
The tonal transition is also effective thanks to tremendous technical work that immerses and thrills. Andrew Boyce's picture-perfect hotel room set is more than meets the eye. The audio-visual work of Anthony Mattana (sound designer), Lap Lu Chu (lighting) and Phillip Algeier (visual effects) dazzle as they grow denser and denser, leading to an uplifting conclusion that brought the opening-night audience to its feet.
"The Mountaintop" runs through October 27. Tickets, showtimes and more information is available at actorstheatre.org.