BWW Review: THE MOUNTAINTOP at Westcoast Black Theatre
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a moving production of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop.
It takes a lot of flowing stage direction, clever interactive dialogue, confident actors, and a compelling story line to hold the attention of an audience when there are just two characters on the stage for 90 minutes without an intermission. This is not an easy production to stage. So much depends on the actors memorizing a phenomenal amount of lines, delivering them with conviction. WBTT does this play justice through two gifted actors, Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Emerald Rose Sullivan (Camae) who bring their characters to life with depth and compassion.
The Mountaintop is a fictional depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last day. It is adventurous and bold, heartwarming and heart breaking. The play is set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, on the eve of his assassination in 1968.
With his roommate Rev. Ralph Abernathy tasked to find Pall Mall cigarettes for him, a fatigued Dr. King enters his hotel room while a storm looms in the background. King calls room service for coffee to help him stay awake while preparing to finish his next speech. When the beautiful and precocious maid, Camae, comes to his room, she delvers more than coffee. After a bit of a slow start at the beginning of the play, things start to liven up during the curious interaction between King and Camae. If you remember Ralph Abernathy's book, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, which stated King had extra-marital affairs, you would naturally think that was what you were about to witness.
As King and the audience come to know Camae, she proves to be a dichotomy of herself. She admits at one point in her life to being a poor, street worker, yet her words are eloquent and educated. She speaks highly of God yet swears like a sailor. She offers sips of whiskey from her flask and tips on public speaking. She oddly seems to know a lot about King and even smokes his brand of cigarettes. Is she a plant? Does she work for the FBI, who was known to tap his hotel rooms?
They talk about racial unrest and his passion to fight for rights in a peaceful way - to march. Their interactions and well-written humor injected into their conversations make the long monologues bearable. It is finally revealed that Camae is an angel, sent by God to bring King Home. There is a phone conversation between King and God that is humorous and bold at times. King is not ready to go, has more to do and say and begs to complete his task. Camae stands her ground on her goal to bring him Home and telling him it is time to pass on the baton. He asks to see what the future is like and she shows him via a video on the wall. The footage shows how far we have come from the day of his death. Or have we? He is introduced to cell phone technology, several predecessors, presidents and changes in the arts, education and life in the United States. The short film is narrated in a rap-like song by Camae, who doesn't miss a beat, stating names, songs, quotes and newsworthy events. I found the footage very moving.
Mr. Murtadha as King was believable and down to earth. The delivery of his lines as King would have spoken them was flawless. Ms Sullivan was playful, bold and secure in her role of Camae, which was equal in stature to that of Mr. Murtadha. They performed exceptionally well opposite each other and truly breathed life into the characters they portrayed. This is a delightful production celebrating Dr. King's life and legacy.
Ms Hall is a playwright, journalist and actress from Memphis, Tennessee. The Mountaintop premiered in London in and 2009. In 2010 it won Best New Play at the Lawrence Olivier Awards. In 2011 it opened on Broadway starring Samuel L Jackson as Dr. Martin Luther King and Angela Bassett as Camae.
The Mountaintop runs through February 18, 2018. For more information about Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe visit www.westcaostblacktheatre.org.