by Patrick B. McGuigan
Set on the night before the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, “The Mountaintop” is an imaginary exposition of the slain civil rights leader’s last few hours on earth.
Under the direction of Rene’ Moreno, the two performers, W. Jerome Stevenson as Dr. King and JuNene K as Camae, are brilliant in this production from the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre.
They fully invest themselves in their respective roles (https://city-sentinel.com/2015/02/vigilant-in-how-we-treat-each-other-dr-kings-last-hours-at-the-mountaintop/).
Stevenson has King’s cadence down to a “T,” and his voice has nearly the same tenor. Visually, he is well-suited to portray King in his prime.
As a mysterious hotel maid, K is alluring, magnetic and disturbing. She alternately attracts and repels with saucy language and intelligent wit. Their interaction, in about 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue (within a single act) is a wonder to behold.
Author Katori Hall’s script is filled with harsh rhetoric and cursing. While her narrative is often powerful, I had no clue the extent to which her narrative departs from Christian views on the nature of God.
Hall is entitled to her own view of both this world and the one to come. Still, some of her narrative choices seem curious in light of the spirituality of the man around whom the entire story pivots.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a minister of the Gospel, a believer in the accuracy and efficacy of Sacred Scripture. His sermons – heard on audio, seen in visual clips, or read on the printed page – still provide stirring insight into the necessity for human action flowing from Biblical precepts. The authenticity of his message made King’s words resonate throughout a nation he wanted to make worthy of its best aspirations.
MLK’s personal failings do not undermine the truths he conveyed as powerfully as any preacher of the modern age. In retrospect, the fact that he knew he was under FBI surveillance and that his moral faults were becoming known make even more admirable his courage in sustaining his earthly mission (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/martin-luther-king-jr-as-someone-we-could-know-at-the-mountaintop).
Some of Hall’s authorial twists are admittedly fun, as when an unseen hero of early Christianity (admired by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox) is at the end of a long-distance call placed from King’s hotel room. Then, as Camae assists King when he dons his suit coat, Hall’s writing evokes mystery. Yes, even a sinner can become a saint, and that’s the point of the good news.
Other choices Hall made in her play will limit its appeal for some believers.
Still, Hall’s Dr. King has a sense of history and righteousness, manly pride leavened with a generous and forgiving understanding of human sinfulness. Despite frequently bad theology, Hall’s writing is a vehicle for great theater.
After King begs to see the future, a psychedelic visual summary of nearly five decades unfolds on-stage. Lighting and special effects are stellar, as we expect from the Equity professionals at CityRep. The simple set design well-serves throughout, without seeming constricted.
The script and subject-matter fully merit the “R” rating. The unusual collaboration of three companies (CityRep, Pollard Theatre and Poteet Theatre) has drawn national attention.
The second weekend for CityRep’s production include these performances at the Civic Center: Friday February 13 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14 for a 1:30 p.m. matinee, and a 7:30 p.m. performance. The local run closes on Sunday Feb. 15 with a 1:30 p.m. matinee.
Tickets cost $8 for Students, Teachers and Military Personnel (with ID), $20 (groups of eight or more), $30 (matinees) and $35 (evening performances). Information is available from Civic Center Box Office at (405) 297-2264 or purchase online at www.cityrep.com.
For information on the Guthrie Pollard run of the show, February 20 to 28, visit www.thepollard.org or telephone (405) 282-2800.
Jerome Stevenson, who also runs Pollard, delivers a closing monologue as if King is speaking directly to the CityRep audience. They become members of his congregation. In that sequence, the actor reaches the summit of theatrical achievement. He is magnificent.
Long will this memory linger. It was easy to believe that the great man had walked into the Freede Little Theatre, exhorting us again toward dignity and honor, reminding us that the greatest weapon of all is love.