Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 7, 2013

The Mountaintop

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through May 5, 2013
by Jarice Hanson

An exact replica of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel provides the set for Katori Hall’s imaginative play, "The Mountaintop." The scene recreates the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination on the balcony of the Memphis motel in April, 1968. After delivering his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, King returns to his room to meet Camae, a maid who delivers his coffee and tells him that “God wants me to get you ready to go home.”

Hall’s script is uneven, blending images of historical accuracy and collective memory with fantasy, popular culture and time warps, but director Rob Ruggiero makes the script work by building tension between the two actors, and between the actors and the audience. Occasionally a line is prescient with meaning those watching the play see King struggle with the burden of leadership while experiencing the carnal desire of a man who spends too much time on the road.

Actors Courtney Thomas as Camae, and Jamil A.C. Mangan in the difficult role of MLK, give intelligent performances resonating with sexual tension and humor. Room 306 is the place where they share cigarettes, reflect on the meaning of Civil Rights, and the brief time we share on earth. When Mangan powerfully builds to the pinnacle of the performance, the audience is left to ponder the significance of destiny.

Evan Adamson’s detailed set is flawless, and provides a link to time and place integral to the story. John Lasiter’s lighting and Michael Miceli’s sound design punctuate the action with foreshadowing that heightens the tension. While it is difficult to describe everything that happens without giving away the twists and turns that make the story so compelling, "The Mountaintop" delivers strong performances, and a meaningful experience that packs a punch.