The voices of the two-person cast of Triad Stage and Playmaker Repertory Company’s “The Mountaintop” masterfully conveyed Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to audience members in its Sunday matinee performance.
The play, written by Katori Hall, follows King on the night before his assassination in his motel room in Memphis, Alabama. Camae, an angel disguised as a maid, pays King a visit and their conversation forces King to confront his innermost thoughts and fears.
Performance: The Mountaintop
Location: Paul Green Theatre, September 29
Although the play only has one scene and one setting, the dynamic conversation between King, portrayed by Cedric Mays, and Camae, played by Lakisha May, keeps the audience engaged. Mays and May never missed a beat throughout the play, even after a couple minor slip-ups, showing how seamlessly they were able to slip into their roles.
Instead of being cast in a saintly light, King was depicted as a normal human being. In the beginning of the show, Hall showed him as everything a preacher is not – he was flirting with Camae, he used inappropriate language, and after learning he would be dying the next day, he told God she had made a mistake while on the phone with her (God was depicted as a powerful black woman in the play).
Once King learned his fate, he also started to grieve like any other human would. He yelled, screamed and pleaded. He had so much more work to do and dreams to fulfill, and he was worried that he had dropped the “baton” — which represented who would lead the fight for racial equality — too many times, which is what lead to this fate. He was worried no one would be able to carry out his dreams for him.
Mays was able to transition from the fun-loving, inspirational figure to an irate, grieving human being without thought. His performance was believable and thorough. Mays still had King’s characteristic voice — powerful and full of wisdom — but his flawless performance made King seem more human than godlike, which was refreshing.
May’s portrayal of Camae also lived up to Hall’s writing. Her character had depth and it was clear that May had spent a lot of time preparing for this role. Through her sass-filled lines, her character was still able to serve as the guide King needed. Their chemistry was flawless.
The set design was quaint and appropriate and detailed. The beds were draped with orange, semi-worn blankets, which is stereotypical of motel rooms. The design also featured well-constructed windows, curtains and a balcony for King and Camae to walk on throughout the play. And in one part of the show, artificial flowers literally sprouted from the floor of the motel room, showing how much detail the crew put into this show.
The costumes also fit the characters well — Mays was sporting a collared white shirt, a tie, and gray suit pants, and May wore traditional maid’s clothing — a light blue, knee-length outfit.
The play closed with an inspiring and illuminating slideshow of what had happened in American history since King had “passed the baton.” Mays stood in the audience watching the show while May narrated the slides, and after it had concluded Mays gave a speech about why the baton was important. But this presentation and speech weren’t necessary. The concluding scene appeared as if Hall didn’t trust the audience enough to catch the underlying themes of her work.
But the cast and crew still made a strong impact during this concluding scene and throughout the rest of the show, leaving the audience in awe and silent for a few seconds when the performance ended.
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