By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Widely described as one of the most powerful fictitious portrayals thus far of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his prime, Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop” is the first 2015 production at The Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep). It runs Feb. 8-15 at the Freede Little Theatre at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Avenue.
CityRep has collaborated on this month’s local productions with The Poteet Theater (undergoing renovations in the basement of St. Luke’s Methodist Church downtown) and Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre.
JuNene K portrays Camae, a maid King meets while she works at the Memphis Hotel in which he stayed the night before his assassination.
JuNene told The City Sentinel her character is “the mule of the world.” Raped in an alley in her younger years, Camae is “just a woman. Folks won’t listen to me.” Then, suddenly, this “weak” woman is “talking to a powerful man. Now, women have a voice.”
Director Rene’ Moreno said during “table work” on the production, he and the cast had “long and vigorous discussions about power and people in power.” The story provokes questions about “what we’ve seen recently in Missouri, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere.”
Conversations among the key trio – director and two performers – were “hard and interesting. We tried to get to the level of unspoken ‘language.’ ” The drama touches, he said, on “our safety as individuals and a community, the role of authority figures, things we’ve learned or not learned as a society.”
During a wide-ranging interview with a CityRep leader, the director and his performers, W. Jerome Stevenson, who portrays Dr. King, told The City Sentinel he studied extensively, “to fill myself up with the fuel that was this man. At the time, some blacks thought he was not doing enough; some whites thought he was going too fast” in the push for civil rights in America. “It seems to me that King often felt and lived the definition of ‘alone.’”
Despite King’s “meteoric rise to leadership of a movement,” Alexander says, the humanity and flaws portrayed in ‘The Mountaintop” make this, “in some ways…, a story about all of us. It didn’t start on one day, and wouldn’t end on day. We all have different feelings about his death. My thought is that we must keep moving, and keep the movement non-violent.”
Jerome also reflected, “Our desire to grow has to be constant.” King “had empathy for everybody,” including opponents. Thus, “We have to careful about categories of people.”
Don Jordan, artistic director for CityRep, the local equity threatre, also participated in the discussion. He expressed pride in the cooperation for the production among three distinct theatrical organizations. Don said, “They are trying to be good stewards with the resources they have. It was extraordinary to bring three theatre companies together like this. … I think it will be a highlight of African-American history month, at least in our state.”
Moreno commented that the issues author Katori Hall raised include, “A baton passed to us. … Just because they passed those very important bills in the 1960s is everything now OK? No, it’s an ongoing struggle, and not everything is pleasant.” People of good will, Rene’ reflected, must “keep vigilant in how we treat each other.”
“The Mountaintop” won the prestigious Olivier Award for Ms. Hall, the still-youthful looking writer. An Associated Press review at the time of the Broadway premiere said the fictitious story was “thrilling, wild, provocative,” and that the author’s “humanization project” is “real and urgent and whole.”
In addition to Moreno’s work as director, the technical crew includes stage manager and sound designer Steve Emerson, set designer Ben Hall and costume designer Michael James, as well as Adam Chamberlin’s lighting, and Timothy Stewart’s property design.
CityRep’s paid performances include Friday, February 6 7:30 p.m. preview, Saturday, February 7, 1:30 p.m. matinee and 7:30 p.m. opening night; and Sunday February 8, 1:30 p.m. matinee.
The second weekend’s shows for CityRep: Fri. Feb. 13 7:30 p.m., Sat. Feb. 14 1:30 p.m. matinee and 7:30 p.m. performance; the local run closes on Sunday Feb. 15 with a 1:30 p.m. matinee.
Important: “The Moutaintop” is rated R for mature content.
For the CityRep run of “The Mountaintop,” 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.
Tickets prices will be different for the Guthrie Pollard Theatre run, February 20 to 28. For information, visit www.thepollard.org or telephone (405) 282-2800.
While nearly everyone agrees American culture transformed as a result of MLK’s life and work, there remains unfinished business on which we all can agree.
As for that social progress, Don reflected, “We have a photo of the balcony at the Pollard from the days when blacks had to sit in the balcony. Now they’re on the stage.”
NOTE: This report is appearing simultaneously at CapitolBeatOK.com and in the print edition of The City Sentinel, February 4 edition.