Make Your Way to the Mountaintop

If you are traveling north before the end of January you would be remiss not to stop and see The Mountaintop. Now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City, The Mountaintop, wondrously written by Katori Hall and directed by Kenny Leon invites audiences on a theatrical journey to laugh, reflect and reexamine. The Mountaintop is an imagined interaction between Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr., played by Samuel L. Jackson and a maid, Camae portrayed by Angela Bassett at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. The two meet on the eve of his assassination when he returns to his motel room after giving his famous and perhaps prophetic last speech in which he declared that he’d been to the mountaintop.

The small and musty motel room is in direct contrast to the large themes and fresh take on the slain civil rights leader that are explored in the script by Hall. Seldom seen are such dissections of King as a person and not just a pure and political figure. Peering into the room of the motel, the audience relates to a man navigating his own morality and coming to terms with his own mortality. While it is an imagined exchange between two people it offers real questions and thoughts. Hall challenges.

No script could come to life without proper players and under the guide of Leon, Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett shine. Jackson does an outstanding job at playing King, because he never attempts to play the icon that Dr. King was; he chooses instead to lend himself to the role of King as the man he was. The performance of Angela Bassett as the provocative Camae is sans any flaws. Her power as an actress is best exhibited when King asks Camae what she would tell congregations across the country about the next steps necessary in the fight for civil rights.  Bassett as Camae takes you on a ride that you don’t want to get off of as you hang on to her every word. Her fire is matched equally well with the coolness of her costar. Bassett and Jackson are a perfect pair.

Everyone that leaves the theatre leaves with a difference sense of what that man who’d gotten to the mountaintop before us all may have been like and glad that they’d been to The Mountaintop too. This production runs through January 22, 2012.

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