Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Adrian Roberts, Simone Missick
Directed by: Anthony J. Haney
When: Previews March 6-8, opens March 9, runs through April 7, 2013
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets:$23-$73 (savings available for students, educators and seniors). Call 650-463-1960 or visit theatreworks.org
to 'The Mountaintop'
in Katori Hall's imagining of the great man's last night
On January 15, 2013, to note Martin Luther King Jr.'s 84th birthday, I posted a photo of him on my Facebook page that had type printed over it: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
A pal of mine, Tom Mangan, posted this in response: "The best American, in my estimation."
Later, Mangan, a very smart and very talented writer and editor, added: "Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson fill out my top four. Why MLK above them? The others had the support of a nation behind them. MLK had a nation -- his own -- opposing him. By any rational measure he should have given up, but he didn't. He pretty much personally made America live up to its promise of equality."
Another pal of mine, another very smart and talented writer, Lloyd G Francis, said "One of the few real Christians in the history of the world."
It would be hard to overstate how important Martin Luther King Jr. was in the development of these United States. He showed the need for an end to racism, and he showed true Christianity in his non-violent approach. He turned the other cheek.
He died for our sins on April 4, 1968.
Adrian Roberts, a fine actor with a long string of stage and screen credits, is to play Martin Luther King Jr. in "The Mountaintop," for TheatreWorks.
What's it like to play this historical and religious icon?
"Terrifying!" he said, during a phone conversation last week. "Humbling, thrilling, exciting. All those things.
"He's one of those icons, in my consciousness. People have these ideas about him, and when you research the man behind the legend, it's fascinating."
And, Roberts points out, "He died so young. It makes me ask myself, 'What have I accomplished in my life?'"
King was only 39 when he was assassinated.
King's assassination is a very dark -- and confusing -- blot on the history of this nation. For years, it was thought that an Army veteran and criminal named James Earl Ray was the killer. Ray confessed and went to prison, where he died, but not before recanting his confession.
Other people have been blamed for the shooting, and there is a very involved set of claims accusing the United States government and the mafia for the killing, much like with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A Memphis court assigned the blame to someone other than Ray, but a Justice Department document discounts that court's findings. We may never know.
In the meantime, Roberts and actress Simone Missick will perform playwright Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop" for TheatreWorks, a play that imagines what happened in King's motel room the night before his death.
Here's what the TheatreWorks press release says about it: "After delivering one of his most memorable speeches - a passionate oration supporting the Memphis sanitation workers' strike in which he declares, 'I have been to the Mountaintop' - an exhausted Dr. King retires to Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel while a storm rages outside. Camae, an effervescent and beautiful motel maid, arrives with Dr. King's coffee, but it soon becomes clear that she is not what she appears to be. When she reveals some surprising news, King is forced to confront his life, his legacy, and the future of his people."
"She's a great actress, very funny, beautiful, talented," said Roberts of Missick. "She makes it easy to work with her. We have have very good chemistry. She just loves to play, which makes the job easier, despite the subject."
The play premiered in London in 2009 to rave reviews, winning a lot of major awards. In 2011, Samuel L. Jackson made his Broadway debut in the show, with Angela Bassett, and again, was greeted with rave reviews. Now it is hitting regional theaters across the nation, including TheatreWorks.
"It is important to show this man," said Roberts, who was born in Trinidad, and raised in Fremont, California. "He was a complex character, just like all of us. We tend to put people like him on huge pedestals. But what's interesting to me about the part is the man behind the image."
Reviews of the show in New York and London talk a lot about the fast pace and humor of this show. Roberts' preparation has included lots of research.
"What were his personal demons, his flaws? Not much is known about him, really. And the way he spoke. It's hard to find stuff where he's just talking. There are lots of slices of speeches, film of the speeches, the marches, but it's tough to find him just talking."
Roberts saw Jackson do the play on Broadway, and was impressed by how good he was, but says he is happy to be working at TheatreWorks, developing his own approach to the story.
King "was thrust in this position," Roberts said. "He was a new, young pastor in Alabama, he didn't yet have ties to the church board and the community. But he was needed. The country was sick, and you can't call yourself the greatest country in the world if you don't take care of your sick."
What about now, 45 years after King's death?
"There's a whole lot of work to be done" Roberts said. "Until the country gets of its shame about slavery, we can't move forward. ...
"Slavery infected the country. Once you keep someone down, for racism or anything, it's not good. It's a sickness. ... The dialogue has to be kept going."
The play, by the way, has some sort of mysterious reveal, or McGuffin, or twist of plot. Nobody talks about it. I don't know what it is yet. I'll go see the play, then I'll find out.