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Play explores MLK's last night alive

Mountaintop dress rehearsal on Tuesday night.
Mountaintop dress rehearsal on Tuesday night.

Greensboro-based theater company Triad Stage and PlayMakers Repertory Company are coming together for the first time to reimagine Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night alive in “The Mountaintop.”

“This play celebrates the legacy of MLK Jr.,” said Preston Lane, artistic director of Triad Stage. “It reminds us that at one point he was going to take us to the mountaintop. He started a journey for freedom and justice and equality in America. We’re carrying on his dream of what greatness America would be capable of.”

Lane said he was excited to co-produce playwright Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” which he said is one of the most significant new American plays today.

“Martin Luther King Jr. is such a pivotal figure in American history. There are so many ways he’s been both deified and vilified,” Lane said. “This play causes us to see a moment in history as a very personal moment.”

Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges also directed last season’s PlayMakers production of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“If you don’t have a preconceived notion about Dr. Martin Luther King, then there’s something wrong with you,” Myrick-Hodges said. “He’s one of the most important people in American history and he changed the trajectory of this country in terms of how we treat each other.”

The play is not, however, about King’s civil rights leadership or his vision for the country. Rather, Myrick-Hodges said it is about being human and coming to terms with one’s own fears of mortality.

“That’s something that none of us can perceive. We can’t perceive what it would have been like, what happens when you think you’re going to die tomorrow,” she said.

She said the play is funnier than one might expect, despite the fact that the audience will know how King’s life ended.

“The assumption that every comic is funny, or every political figure is serious, is foolish. We are more than one thing as human beings. He was more than just a civil rights leader. He had children, he was funny, he had a sense of humor,” Myrick-Hodges said. “To have wanted to live that way, one would have had to have more joy than that.”

Cedric Mays, who portrays King, said he hopes the audience keeps an open mind.

“The most important thing is to remember that this was a man,” Mays said. “The measure of an individual is how they behave in such an extraordinary task.”

Mays said his Southern background gives him unique insight into the play.

“I’m a Southerner, raised Baptist, from South Carolina. It challenges me to put aside my own preconceived notions about King,” Mays said.

“I don’t approach it with that sense of reverence because if you do that, you’re not portraying the man, you’re portraying an idea of the man.”

Myrick-Hodges said she hopes the audience will learn from King’s example.

“We all have a role to play,” Myrick-Hodges said. “We can choose to lead, to care about people, to participate in our communities — or not. The choice is ours.”

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