Column: Review Of ‘The Mountaintop’ Play

March 6, 2018 | 1 Comment

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

The play ‘The Mountaintop’, written by Katori Hall was staged at City Hall this past weekend as a part of the Bermuda Festival. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney, this L.A. – based production effected a unique presentation using minimal stage setting.

Spoiler Alert: This is a fictionalized story of the eve of Martin Luther King’s assassination – April 3rd, 1968 – at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. While the subject matter is potentially morbid, the Playwright enlivens it with a surprising approach, which I’ll share.

The writer grew up in Memphis and her mother had always regretted not attending King’s final rally where he delivered his famous ‘Mountaintop’ speech. The play was written as a gift to her mom.

The film footage of that speech contains MLK’s premonition of his death.

Extract of Dr Martin Luther King’s Last Speech “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop”

King was exceptionally stressed that night, having returned to Memphis, ignoring the advice of his inner-circle, less than a week after a ‘peaceful’ march in support of Sanitation Workers had been ‘hijacked’ by a group of ‘would-be Panthers’. The ensuing riot which led to a teenager’s death had been blamed on King by much of the media.

The Play is set in the motel room of King and his confidante Ralph Abernathy, just following that rally. King had asked Abernathy to pick up some cigarettes, as he tried to work through a draft of another speech due the next day. He called the front desk for a cup of coffee.

An attractive, outspoken maid named Camae made the delivery and King welcomed her into the room. The two of them initially engaged in a flirtatious ‘dance’ and Camae eventually offered King one her cigarettes. The audience was probably surprised to find that King smoked and was not offended by the maid’s occasional blurted profanities; for which she often quickly apologized.

Subsequently, the two of them engaged in some deep discussion regarding King’s state of agitation. He shares how he felt increasingly burdened by the weight of the Movement as their ideals were being challenged from many sides. She expressed the view that King’s philosophy of non-violence was outdated and voiced her support for the approach of Malcolm X and the Panthers.

A phone call from King’s wife interrupted the discussion. This act of ‘house-keeping’ allowed their discussion to segue into various personal allegations, the reality of his humanity.

Katori Hall discussing The Mountaintop play

During the subsequent dialogue, the actors – Gilbert Brown and Karen White – had the audience fully engaged, with King buckling to the foreboding of the surrounding thunder storm building tension inside, on the one hand; and the sharp, salty wit of Camae, on the other.

Eventually, attempting to calm King, Camae called him by his birth-name; Michael. King angrily pointed out that only a small number of people knew that reference and accused her of being an FBI spy.

Camae eventually shared with him that she was in fact an Angel sent to collect him. Initially shocked and confused, once King was convinced of Camae’s authenticity, he began to bargain with her.

He wanted to delay his death for a month, so that he could complete a second march on Washington. She eventually agreed to phone God and subsequently allowed King speak directly to Her.

King was initially very gracious for the opportunity to speak with God who he had learnt was both black and female. However, when he was unable to convince Her to delay his death, King became angry. She hung up on him, in a scene that is both full of pathos and humour.

Camae subsequently shared with King that she had just become an Angel having been a prostitute who was killed by a white client. She explained that she had forgiven the killer when she learnt that he was a victim of child sexual abuse. This revelation of extraordinary character – her true colours – connected Camae with King and he proclaimed himself ‘ready to go’.

That done, King worried about who would ‘carry the baton’ and with Camae’s help he recognized that there were many of us left here to continue the work.

As a special favour to King, Camae gave him a ‘view’ – a la video presentation – that highlighted the ups and downs – major milestones- that followed his death. This covered the period up until the Obama election.

This play challenged the audience on a number of levels. Some will feel that it crossed some lines. However, it took the life of an icon – some may say a ‘saint’ – and humanized him. It also reminded us as ‘ordinary’ humans, we are called to do – what may seem to be – extraordinary things.

We are called to ’carry the baton’.

- Glenn Fubler


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Comments (1)

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  1. Learn says:

    The whole cabinet need to go to this and especially Wayne listen and learn

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