It is as audacious as it is inventive — a simple premise that allows Hall to create a fictional universe of her own with a historical giant. It is also somewhat sacrilegious, showing the fleshy, banal side of a civil rights saint, which is partly the playwright's goal, too...The inevitable standing ovations after the play are for King as much as for the actors and Hall.
THE MOUNTAINTOP Broadway Reviews
Reviews of The Mountaintop on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for The Mountaintop including the New York Times and More...
Hall's depiction of Dr. King is daring in its vulnerability, and the ideas she explores, through King's conversation with Camae, are provocative, mature, sometimes even dark...toward the end, when we feel like we know everything, the playwright digs deeper and The Mountaintop somehow becomes more majestic, inviting each of us in the audience to join the ascent as we see fit.
It's a relief, not to mention a thrill, to report that Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop" -- which arrives with powerful fistfuls of sparky chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett -- crackles with theatricality and a humanity more moving than sainthood...There is an up-close-and-personal intimacy in director Kenny Leon's sure-handed production.
One of history’s greatest ironies is that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his soaring “I’ve have been to the mountaintop” speech on the very night before his death. Now, emerging playwright Katori Hall has imagined the events of that final evening at the Lorraine Motel in her work The Mountaintop. This Olivier-Award winning play, being presented on Broadway in a production starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, is a theatrical tour de force.
While it begins as a deceptively simple fictionalized account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final night on Earth, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop literally explodes into metaphysical magic realism, ruminating on race and politics, life and death in ways that connect King’s legacy to every person in the audience. Bottom line: Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett ignite this provocative play, which is slow to reveal itself but ultimately packs a punch.
Unlike those warts-and-all biodramas that humiliate the celebrated figures they profess to humanize, Katori Hall's imaginative two-hander "The Mountaintop" does, indeed, burnish the legend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Set in Memphis on the eve of his assassination, this soul-stirring drama finds King confiding his doubts, fears and morbid premonitions to a sassy motel maid -- a deceptively trite situation that Hall transforms into an emotionally powerful and theatrically stunning moment of truth. Factor in the double dose of charisma from certifiable stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, and this show has wings.
"The Mountaintop" is tall on imagination, it is short on revelations. Unless you count Hall's assertion that King had doubts and lapses personally and professionally. And that God is a proud black woman.
Considering one of the characters is a civil-rights hero, the 90-minute two-hander has some surprisingly corny moments. But the finale offers a fantastic pay-off that ranks among the most exhilarating 10 minutes of the year. The path to the peak may be uneven, but the view from there is worth it.
Unfortunately, this big-picture drama (and Ms. Hall’s big picture is bigger than you imagine) is short on revelatory close-ups. And despite an engagingly low-key performance by Mr. Jackson, it never provides the organic details and insights that would make Martin Luther King live anew.
Thunderclaps shake the theater; the deluge outside the window is practically Biblical. But for all the Abrahamic ominousness, not too much actually transpires, emotionally or counterhistorically, in The Mountaintop, Katori Hall’s giddy and insouciant yet strangely weightless fantasy about the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Samuel L. Jackson)...Hall loses her resolve and retreats into magic and omen.
Amid much banter, the play fails to shed any new light on the subject. It's been thoroughly documented that King was a flawed man, and as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, he does emerge wonderfully human. However, any revelations about his thoughts, his motivations and fears all stem from the author's invention and fantasy, and it gets weird.
The play, which earned its author the Olivier Award in London, aims to put King's legacy in perspective for anyone who takes the struggles and accomplishments of various human rights movements for granted. It's an admirable goal, but one suspects that at least some Olivier voters were more enamored of Hall's spirit than her execution...The play ends on a lofty note, providing both Jackson and Bassett ambitious, lyrical monologues. Still, the actors, and certainly the subject, deserve a higher plane than The Moutaintop provides.
This won the Olivier Award for best new play? The question kept flashing through my mind while sitting through "The Mountaintop," Katori Hall's two-character fantasy set on the night before Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968...It doesn't help that Bassett delivers such an exaggerated performance, it's hard to believe her as a real person. Fortunately, Jackson underplays King and convincingly conveys the icon's charismatic public persona and his private, fallible side.
Camae is equipped not only with caffeine, cigarettes and a flask, but a new generation's growing impatience with King's nonviolence. Hall gives her several brazen monologues and a final, surreal rap, all dazzlingly delivered by Bassett.
Evidently “The Mountaintop” was taken very seriously last year in London, where it won an Olivier Award. Frankly, I think the play is well-meaning rubbish that trivializes an extraordinary man.
The current production, staged by Kenny Leon with film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, opens with considerable hype and celebrity wattage, neither of which does it any favors. Miscasting and directorial overkill turn what could have been a beguiling chamber meditation on fallibility and destiny into an awkward, mawkish blend of docudrama, surreal whimsy and pandering black-history triumphalism.
Even if you find "The Mountaintop" too sticky to stomach, you'll admire the cut-to-the-chase directness with which Mr. Leon has staged it. David Gallo's hotel-room set undergoes a climactic transformation that is far more surprising than anything in Ms. Hall's script. Like Mr. Jackson's acting, the set would be worth paying to see if the play were good enough to be worth sitting through.
Jackson’s less than perfect casting is not the fatal wound to this two-character piece...What undermines “The Mountaintop” is a rather amateurish narrative twist that is apparently so pivotal to the evening’s reason-for-being that the show’s producers have asked reviewers not to reveal it. There can be no ethical offense in reporting that this contrivance is what terminally weakened my faith in the play or that most of the audience will not find the revelation especially surprising, either.
The producers and press agent urgently request reviewers not to give away the final twists. They are pretty shoddy, preposterous twists, too costly even gratis. So instead of discussing the ending, which, phony as it is, is still the only thing of interest here (other than, perhaps, the revelation that God is female), let me focus on the beginning.
The show's production team has asked reviewers not to reveal any plot twists, but let's just say it turns what had previously been a mediocre biodrama into a ridiculous embarrassment. Jackson convincingly highlights King's smoothness as well as his insecurities. If not much else, "The Mountaintop" leaves its audience hungry for a more substantial play about King.
With its high-profile stars and subject matter, The Mountaintop is likely to be a big commercial success, but if this one is awarded the Tony come June, it will mean we've indeed suffered through a sad and sorry Broadway season.