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BWW Review: THE MOUNTAINTOP is an Exceptional Work of Modern Theatre

BWW Review: THE MOUNTAINTOP is an Exceptional Work of Modern Theatre
l-r: John R. Christopher and Jasmine Garlic
Photo Courtesy of Paradox Players

THE MOUNTAINTOP is the latest offering from Paradox Players. Written by Katori Hall, the play debuted in 2009. Initially unable to find a U.S. venue, it originally premiered in London to rave reviews and critical acclaim. The play finally opened on Broadway in the Fall of 2011, starring Samuel L. Jackson (in his Broadway debut) and Angela Bassett.

THE MOUNTAINTOP is a fictional reimagining of the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Set entirely at the Lorraine Motel in Room 306 (The King-Abernathy Suite), the play follows the conversations between Dr. King (John R. Christopher) and the striking, mysterious hotel maid, Camae (Jasmine Garlic). As the night progresses through humorous interactions and playful exchanges, the conversations between the two become deeper. After discussing at length the ongoing fight for civil rights and how to best continue, Camae reveals her true purpose for being in Dr. King's room that night. What unfolds is a powerful depiction of how one man's dream lead a movement and his legacy changed a nation.

The performances by the play's two actors are nothing short of a powerhouse display of artists that truly understand the weight behind the words of their characters. John R. Christopher as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. finds the palpable humanity behind the face of the civil rights movement. Christopher embraces the duality of a man constantly pulled between ambition, duty, and devotion. His fiery monologues and poignant moments of vulnerability hold the audience in rapt attention. Christopher's grounded strength is met and matched by his electrifying co-star Jasmine Garlic as Camae. A newcomer to Austin Theatre, Garlic's stunning portrayal of the enigmatic Camae is authentic, engaging, and effortless. Journeying through humor, heartbreak, and outrage, Garlic is an undeniable force whose presence lights up the stage. Together, the duo balance and complement each other and the result is mesmerizing to watch.

A full-length play with two actors may seem daunting for many burgeoning creatives. Fortunately, directors, Rachelle Chery and Chelsea Manasseri possess a crystal-clear vision that drives the production's impassioned message directly into the hearts of its audiences. Chery and Manasseri's staging is uncomplicated, concise, and meaningful. The intimate space created allows the nuanced and distinctive performances to be fully witnessed and valued.

THE MOUNTAINTOP is a captivating story and exceptional work of modern theatre. While the proceedings are fictitious, the message at the center is as true today as it was in 1968. Featuring emotional and powerful performances, THE MOUNTAINTOP reminds its viewers that the fight for equity and equality has only just begun. This galvanizing production by Paradox Players deftly marries art and activism and would make an excellent viewing opportunity for all theatre lovers.

THE MOUNTAINTOP is now playing at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin (4700 Grover Avenue) through March 8th. Friday through Sunday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm.

Free childcare is available on March 1 for the 3:00pm matinee.

Production contains strong language and simulated cigarette smoking (no actual smoking is involved).

Running time (approximately): 2 hours with 10-minute intermission

Ticket Prices: $15 General Admission

$10 Student/Senior Admission

$5 Child Admission

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From This Author - Lacey Cannon Gonzales