Produced by: Pear Theatre
Directed by: Ray Renati
Featuring: Michael Wayne Rice and Nathalie Autumn Bennett
Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission
When: January 14 through January 31, 2016
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida Street, Mountain View
Tickets: $10-$35 (savings available). Visit www.thepear.org or call 1-650-254-1148
Katori Hall's title comes from the last speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. Here is an excerpt:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. 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 just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And 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 the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
with brilliance at Pear Theatre
rises with two excellent, meaningful performances
The Pear Theatre in Mountain View is offering a not-to-be-missed production of Katori Hall's brilliant "The Mountaintop" that is sparked by two fine performances, and the rare opportunity to see the show in intimate circumstances.
The Pear's flexible seating is set up for this show in its proscenium configuration, which allows the theater's maximum number of seats — 98 — but is still effectively close to Kuo-Hao Lo's excellent motel-room set, where the entire play is set.
It is Martin Luther King Jr.'s room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, on April 3, 1968. The next evening, he would step outside the room and be shot, dying about an hour later at a hospital.
"The Mountaintop," which takes its title from the last speech King delivered, is a magical, moving and even amusing imagining of King's last night, when he meets a beautiful motel maid who turns out to be someone special.
The two spend most of the time of the play chatting, flirting and discussing the meaning of King's life and work.
What he does is "carryin' on," the maid, Camae, tells him.
"It's not carryin' on," King says, "It's testifying." It's not "walking," he tells her, it's "marching."
As King, Michael Wayne Rice is brilliant, carrying King through every type of emotion, with the kind of performance that only comes from an actor who is fully committed to the role.
He's busy trying to write a new speech — "Why America is going to hell," he writes — and frustrated because Ralph Abernathy hasn't yet returned with his Pall Mall cigarettes, and calls the front desk to ask for coffee.
When he calls home, and speaks with his youngest child, Bernice, his face lights up with a father's love. It's a lovely moment in an overall excellent performance that brings a very human Martin Luther King Jr. to the room with us.
Camae brings the coffee, and stays, apparently, to flirt and share her Pall Malls with the man she calls "Preacher King." As Camae, Nathalie Autumn Bennett is, indeed, beautiful, as called for in the script, and King — who did, apparently, very much enjoy the company of women, in addition to his wife Corretta — is almost brazen in his flirtation.
About the first 40 minutes or so of this 90-minute play lets us look at the very human man who was what has been is an icon in American history, and between him and Camae, we are grounded in the reality of life for black people in the 1960s in America, the horrors of segregation and the wrongness of the Vietnam war.
"Who would think that Dr. King got stanky feet?" she says, and makes fun of the hole in his socks.
At one point, she puts on his jacket and his shoes, and gets up on a bed to mimic King's way of speechifying, and Bennett is wonderful in the bit, stretching out those vowels like King, but ending with a call to kill the white people — very different from King's non-violent message.
But she is not a real maid, she is a new angel, whose own last day as a human was just the day before, when she was strangled to death by a blue-eyed man in an alley.
Where are her wings? he asks. These are my wings, she responds, gesturing to her breasts. They can get her in anywhere.
When he refers to God as He, she corrects him: "She."
Camae is there because people have been praying for him to not be alone, and to help him prepare to "come home."
He's not ready, he says. There is still work to be done. He must continue to carry the baton. They argue. He demands to speak with God, and after she dials 20 digits on a rotary phone for him, he does. He pleads his case, and even gets angry. She hangs up on him.
"She ain't forsaken you," Camae tells him. "She just don't want to hear your shit."
But, Camae does help him, including letting him see a vision of the future — a future that includes riots and violence, sure, but also Stephen Curry and Barack Obama.
"The baton may have been dropped," Camae says, "But anybody can pick it up."
This powerful play, which won the Olivier Award for best new play in 2010, manages to move us to tears of both laughter and sadness, thanks to these two fine performers and Ray Renati's direction.
Renati actually saw "The Mountaintop" during its premiere in London, and is finally, and beautifully, realizing his dream to direct it.
Lo's set is a simple and accurate motel room, right down to the wrapped glasses next to the ice bucket on the shelf near the bathroom. (The only faux pas was the "snow" that greets King outside the front door when he tries to escape from Camae. On opening night, it just didn't work.)
Sound designer Will Price has us listening to the Memphis rain, and the thunder that increasingly frightens Preacher King. David Gottlieb's lighting design brings the lightning.
Patricia Tyler's costume design was good, except that Bennett — a slim actor who probably works out every day — was swimming in her maid costume. It's a plot point that Camae is proud of her breasts, but they are hard to spot in all that loose fabric.
A fine show. Don't miss this production at The Pear.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org