Review: The Broadway Stage Play THE MOUNTAINTOP Debuts at Theatre Charlotte

Performances run through February 25.

By: Feb. 17, 2024
Review: The Broadway Stage Play THE MOUNTAINTOP Debuts at Theatre Charlotte
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I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of The Mountaintop at Theatre Charlotte.  The Mountaintop, written by playwright Katori Hall, is a fictitious encounter between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Justin Peoples) and a rambunctious maid (angel of sort)  nicknamed Camae (LeShea Stukes) on the eve of his death. Theatre Charlotte transformed their lobby area into Room 306, at the Lorraine Motel.  The elements of that evening with the sound of rain, the flashing of lightning, and the booming sound of thunder set the backdrop for a realistic stormy day in Memphis, Tennessee.  At some point, we even witnessed snow.   This piece showcased the human side of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., down to his “stinky feet”.  I loved the chemistry between the characters and the contrasting personalities – Dr. 'Preacher Man' King – this larger-than-life civil rights activist/preacher with great oratorical skills paired with Camae -  this "sailor-cussing" maid who was really an angel hand-selected by God to fulfill an important earthly assignment, on her first day on the job.  This sometimes humorous dramatization revealed the playful side of this revered giant who amplified the voice of the oppressed with his historic nonviolent marches.  The maverick, who carried the weight and burden of the African American people of his shoulders like a heavy-weight champion.   

This is my fourth time seeing The Mountaintop, and every performance/character has been different, yet impactful. In fact, I recently attended the opening night (January 11)  of The Mountaintop at Corinth Theatre-Arts, in Corinth, Mississippi, about 97 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, where they used the actually bedding and curtains from Room 306, which was made possible by the Civil Rights Museum.   

Justin Peoples did an excellent job portraying the semblance of arrogance that I imagined Dr. King had coupled with his rumored flirtatious nature as whispered through the speculation of infidelities heard through the “grapevine”.  Dr King complimented Camae on her beauty repeatedly during their conversations.  I love the dialogue when Camae told him that he had flirted with her three times, in which he rebutted and said it was only two; however, she replied, “The first time was with your eyes!”  I ABSOLUTLEY loved Camae’s (LeShea Stukes) quick wittiness and spunk, as only she could deliver. 

There were several quotes in the performance that stood out with me that I never really reflected on before, but for some reason they were attention-getters this time.  One in particular was when Dr. King stated “I know the touch of fear more than I know the touch of my own wife.”  I don’t ever want to know fear that intimately.  And Camae delivered several profound phrases that made impact on me: “Powerful is the man that gets more done dead than alive!” I don’t think I want to know that type of power either.   And when Dr. King asked her “will it (death) hurt” and she replied, “You won’t feel the hurt, but the world will!”  A true statement indeed.  I remember seeing the hurt and tears in my parents and their friends eyes when I returned home from school the next day, April 5, 1968.  They were all surrounded around our black and white television set sobbing as the newscaster repeatedly informed the world that the man we knew as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  What a tragedy.  It was similar to “the shot heard around the world”.

I loved the ending scene in The Mountaintop, after Dr. King requested that Camae show him how his dream would be fulfilled.  The repeated announcement ‘the baton passes on” made me proud as the chronological reel of African American history (some good/some tragic) scrolled before our eyes: the burning of cities and riots that occurred after Dr. King’s death, vivid images of  Angela Davis, James Brown, the assassination of a Kennedy, Rodney King, O.J. Simpson and of course the election of a Black president, Barack Obama took me on a journey back down memory lane.  As we celebrate Black History Month, this production serves as a reminder of all the contributions African Americans make not only this month but every month, year after year.

Even though Dr. King's assassination brought much pain and unrest to a culture that was already suffering and dismayed,  "the passing of the baton" so to speak, acknowledges the fact that his legacy lives and will continue to do so for many generations to come.  It gives us a clear visual mandate,  as Dr. King's friend and follower, Reverend Jessie Jackson encouraged us to do to "Keep Hope Alive" and it profoundly delivered the message that although tragic, Dr. King's death was not in vain.   

Sending kudos to the creative team of Mountaintop, Dr. Corlis Hayes (director), Dr. Mack Staton (Dramaturg and Acting Coach), Chris Timmons (Scenic Designer), Jennifer O’Kelly (Lighting and Projection Designer), Dee Abdullah (Costume Designer). Marilyn Carter (Vocal Coach), Kaylen Bryan (Stage Manager), and Graham Williams (Radio DJ).  Equal praises to  Theatre Charlotte for presenting such a thought-provoking piece.

Review: The Broadway Stage Play THE MOUNTAINTOP Debuts at Theatre Charlotte
Justin Peoples as "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." In The Mountaintop"
(Photo Courtesy Of Theatre Charlotte)
Review: The Broadway Stage Play THE MOUNTAINTOP Debuts at Theatre Charlotte
Theatre Charlotte Transformed Their Lobby into a Replica of Room 306,
The Lorraine Motel 

(Photo Courtesy Of Theatre Charlotte)

The Mountaintop runs through February 25 at Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Road, Charlotte, NC.  Tickets Can Be Purchased at:  https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=4&p=1




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