Sunday, October 05, 2014

Quick Take: "The Mountaintop" at ArtsWest

Reginald André Jackson and brianne a. hill in The Mountaintop (Michael Brunk)

The Mountaintop
through October 5, 2014

This intriguing two-hander, The Mountaintop, looks at a fictional last night in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The script, by Katori Hall, focuses on a tired, fractious, chain-smoking King, who chafes at times at his life of travel and being away from his family, but also likes to flirt with, and probably bed with random attractive women who are willing.

In other words, it's an attempt to stop us from making him a saint and focusing on the price the man took in his journey to bring a dream of equality and economic freedom to "his" people. Since it is fictional, Hall has the luxury of having him say whatever she wants, though I imagine there were boundaries she had to walk not to overstep into some outright bawd or conman or other negative portrayal that is belied by what many people know of the real man.

Reginald Andre Jackson does an enviable job as King - his portrayal is down-to-earth and a kind of homage, rather than an imitation. King is visited in a hotel room by a room-service maid, bringing him coffee, her own personal cigarettes, and conversation on a rainy night. brianne a. hill plays Camae (say "Carrie Mae" without the vowels). She is a worthy foil as a feisty, high-esteem woman who has some surprises up her sleeve.

Since the production ends today, I can't encourage you to go see it, more's the pity. But it means that I can mention the "twist" in the play, which is that Camae is actually an angel and tells King that tonight is his last night. When King protests that he wants to speak to God, King ends up on the phone with Her. Yup, God is female. And no, God won't change Her mind.

The set up is so good and the actors are so well cast (by director Valerie Curtis-Newton), that I almost regret the slide into the fantastical. In other words, Camae as a real woman, interacting with King, even if there are hints that he almost knows it could be his last night, was so compelling as a real maid that I wondered what it might have been like if Hall had simply allowed them to speak and keep it in the "regular" (let's not say "real") world.

Having Camae become angelic, even though she acknowledges that this is her first "day" on this job and she had made huge mistakes in her life, takes this on a journey where I don't think we really learn much more about King after that point. I would have recommended it. It's very well done with very solid technical elements (ArtsWest is really leveling upward in that department) and great acting. I just wish it were more the play it starts out to be.

Stay tuned for the rest of their season. It looks like a good one!

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