BWW reviews: View from MOUNTAINTOP offers up close and personal look at Martin Luther King

BWW reviews: View from MOUNTAINTOP offers up close and personal look at Martin Luther King
Photo: Nick Lingnofski

Americans seem to find as much pleasure in learning about the flaws of heroes as they do in building them up in the first place. A quick search of the internet will reveal George Washington probably didn't chop down the cherry tree or that Walt Disney may not be the beloved creator people often imagine him to be.

The Short North Stage's presentation of THE MOUNTAINTOP reveals some things about civil rights leader Martin Luther King many may not want to know. Playwright Katori Hall's script paints a less than saintly portrait of King, a man who smoked cigarettes, was constantly worried about diminishing crowds and government espionage, and was susceptible to cheating on his wife.

And yet, by the end of the 90-minute, one-act play, the audience walks away with a greater respect and appreciation of King. The play runs March 22-April 3 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

Nestled in the Garden Theatre's smaller stage, the powerful drama is performed entirely in a seedy, dingy Lorraine motel room in Memphis where King spent his final night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Director Alan Bomar Jones has created a vision that is both haunting and unforgettable and a must-see event for those interested in the legacy of Dr. King.

After delivering a speech at the Mason Temple, King (an unflinching performance by Earley Dean) tries to unwind and asks an unseen Ralph Abernathy to get him a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes from the store while he works on a speech. King asks the front desk to send up some coffee and encounters Camae (played by the charismatic Michelle Golden), a maid on her first day on the job. Without giving away too much of the plot, the two strike up a very unlikely friendship.

When he learns that Camae smokes Pall Malls, his brand of choice, he invites her to stay and she worries if it might be against the rules of her new employer.

King asks in a slightly lecherous way, "So what kind of rules does a little lady like you break?"

Camae serves up a knowing smile, "None that involve no preacher, I tells ya that."

It's a challenge for any actor to portray one of the most notable names in American history. Add to that challenge the fact there's only two actors on stage on a single room set for 90 minutes. Factor in the proximity of the black box theatre seating of the Garden Theatre, where the audience is so close that it can read the date of the newspaper on King's desk or see the holes in his socks (which is a part of the play), and you have an uphill challenge for any acting duo. However, Golden and Dean have the right sort of chemistry and energy needed to pull off a show like THE MOUNTAINTOP.

Short North Stage in conjunction with the King Arts Complex present THE MOUNTAINTOP 8 p.m. March 22-24 and March 29-31 with 3 p.m. matinees on March 25 and April 1 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street). A special memorial performance of THE MOUNTAINTOP will be presented on 8 p.m., April 3-the eve of the anniversary of Dr. King's death. Call 614-725-4042 for information.

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From This Author Paul Batterson

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