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
Read John Orr's interview in Regarding Arts with actor Adrian Roberts.
Read Paul Freeman's interview in The Daily News with director Anthony J. Haney.
Read Robert Hurwitt's review in SFGate.com.
Read Karen D'Souza's review in the San Jose Mercury News.
From the program
We liked what TheatreWorks founder Robert Kelley has to say in the program for "The Mountaintop," and reproduce it here, with permission.
From the Artistic Director
Before he was a boulevard, a holiday, a national monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. haunted my youth. He was an almost nightly event on our television-idealistic, relentless, his voice resonant with faith and righteousness. He seemed fearless, maybe even crazy, I worried, as he marched across a succession of bridges, down a parade of streets, arms linked with thousands of others just as committed, just as determined that justice should prevail. He dreamed of an America we could believe in, and his dream became my own. But I was 2500 miles away in a California suburb, safe and silent, enthralled by this man who would never be silenced, even in death. I knewI would revere him for the rest of my life.
Thanks to Dr. King, America changed. In a decade of martyrdoms, his remains the unforgettable loss that lingers. As we continue our slow march toward an America in which all are actually born equal, Dr. King remains the beacon that lights our way. He was the inspiration for TheatreWorks' determination to always celebrate the diversity of our community onstage, a commitment that has never wavered.
My King was a legend, a saint, an icon. But tonight we meet, instead, a man. More than a powerful play about humanity, The Mountaintop is about a human being; about weakness as well as strength; about summing up rather than soldiering on; about a solitary man contemplating life's passages with fear as well as courage. My King stood on a pedestal, carved in stone; playwright Katori Hall sees him as a man of flesh and blood. She shows us a man not so distant from all of us. He swears, he flirts, he pees. He's conflicted, uncertain, proud, and even prejudiced at times. Yet with each revelation, with every flaw, he comes closer to us, grows in our esteem, his imperfections giving depth to his humanity. This King is not merely a hero to acclaim, but a man to understand; not simply a beacon to follow but a mirror in which to see our own place in an America still under construction.
This is the way it was at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto on Saturday night: People walked into the lobby, deeply moved, with tears on their faces, after seeing "The Mountaintop." And remarked that they were surprised by how funny it was.
Theater magic, that.
To be deeply moved, sure. It's the story of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last night alive. It has to mean something. But the funny parts, those are brightly wrapped presents on Christmas morning.
Katori Hall's brilliant play, which won the Olivier Best New Play Award when it debuted in 2009 in London, is getting a hugely human, lively and delightful staging by TheatreWorks, with excellent performances from the only two people in the cast: Adrian Roberts as the preacher who had a dream, and Simone Missick as the motel maid who brings him more than coffee.
The Martin Luther King Jr. of "The Mountaintop" is not just the icon, the man on the pedestal, the man who put the United States on a better path. The Martin Luther King Jr. of this play is also the human being.
He is aware of who he is -- he knows his gifts, he knows his calling. But, in this engrossing, 90-minute play, we hear him yell at his friend Ralph to get him some cigarettes. We hear him urinate in the motel bathroom. He smokes, he drinks, he flirts with the beautiful maid.
And he cowers at every burst of thunder from the storm outside, because he is a man well aware of his mortality and of his many enemies. Just that day, there had been more death threats.
"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop," he'd said earlier that day in his last speech. "And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now ... I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to that promised land."
In Hall's play, we meet the man who has a hole in his socks and smelly feet. A who wants a cigarette.
"Ralph, get me a pack of Pall Malls, when ya go," he yells out his door to the unseen person who must be King's best friend, Ralph Abernathy. "Naw. Naw. Naw. I said Pall Malls. I don't like those Winstons you smoke. You can call me siddity all you like, I want me a Pall Mall. Pall Malls, man! Don't be cheap."
We never see Ralph, but we meet Camae, a beautiful and sexy motel maid who brings Dr. King a cup of coffee. She has a pack of Pall Malls. She shares them. She also pulls a small flask from her large bosom and pours some whiskey in King's coffee to help with his throat, which is hoarse from shouting out his "To the Mountaintop" speech he'd given that day.
She asks if he has a cold. "Just done got to getting hoarse," he tells her. "Shouting."
"And carryin' on," she says.
"Not carrying on," he says, "Testifying."
Camae hadn't been at his speech that day -- it's her first day in her new job -- but she'd heard about it, because "Negro talk faster than lightnin'. They say folks was all cryin'. Sangin.' Mmph. Mmph. Mmph. I woulda liked to have seen that."
He wishes more people had been there, instead of just the two thousand.
"But it was stormin'," Camae says. "Tornadoes and all get out. You can't get no Negro folks out in no rain like this."
"And why is that?" he asks.
"God'll strike you down if you move 'round too much. That what my momma used to say."
Camae is sassy and Southern, and while she recognizes King's greatness, cuts him no slack.
She calls it walking. He says it's marching. But he bemoans the people who follow after the marches so they can break store windows and steal color TVs.
"We're marching for a living wage ... not a damned color TV," he says. "It just gives these police an excuse to shoot innocent folks."
They talk about being black in America. About how he smokes. About how all of God's children got wings. They like each other. They flirt -- and the steam from Roberts and Missick is something to see. These two actors, under the excellent direction of TheatreWorks veteran actor/director Anthony J. Haney, put human beings up there on the stage.
Roberts and Missick deliver big parts of their dialogue in body language. King was only 39 at the time, a powerful, charismatic man, and here he is a motel room, alone with a fabulously beautiful and sassy woman. The maid, in her 20s, knows she's got it going on. They both know who they each are, and you can see their bodies reaching for each other.
But there is more going on for each of them than just a flirtation. Camae is there, in the terms of this play, to help him understand how important he is to all of humanity.
Some people, especially those who just know about Dr. King from the history books, might not realize how important he was in American history. And they might think he was mainly fighting for black people. But he was fighting for all oppressed people, and he made some progress; he helped this nation get some better. No Dr. King, then no President Obama.
And this play gets that important story across in an unusual and powerful way, exploring the greatness and the humanness of Dr. King. And it's fun. And it's moving.
The production pieces come together very nicely. The motel room set by Eric Sinkkonen is more than a motel room, it is the storm over Memphis that is coming for Dr. King. Jill C. Bowers puts Roberts in a Dr. King suit and includes the hole in the socks; she puts Missick in a 1960s maid/waitress dress that shows off that impressive bosom -- which is not just a bosom, it's a plot point. The sound, by Gregory Robinson, and lighting by Jason H. Thompson, are important and well performed from the beginning. Late, Thompson's projections also play a key role.
It's a powerful piece of theater.