“The Mountaintop” is written by Katori Hall and produced by Eric Henry and Jerry Callistein. The online production is presented by Rockville Little Theatre, in partnership with the City of Gaithersburg (Arts on the Green). The play is a re-imagining of the events at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Robert Freemon) in April 1968.
The play follows King, now exhausted from his day of speeches in support for the sanitation workers in the city, to his room at the Lorraine Motel for a bit of solitude. King does the typical things — calls his wife, requests coffee from room service, and unpacks. He also is trying to write his speech for the next day to rally the troops and convey his message to the country. This is an older and more cynical King than we are used to seeing. He has doubts about whether the Civil Rights path should have been integration or separate but equal. He has already expressed his opposition to the Viet Nam War. King also knows he is a target for racists, both verbally and physically. Malcolm X has just been assassinated, and he was the same age as King.
A maid from the hotel enters the room, bringing his coffee. Her name is Camae (Zenia McPherson). She is very friendly, even brazen. The two share cigarettes, some liquor and King drinks his coffee. They flirt and share ideas. In one scene, Camae jumps on a bed to deliver a very harsh, anti-white speech while wearing King’s shoes and jacket. It is delivered with same intense rhetoric that the Reverend would have used. There are many twists and turns to their relationship as the night wears on and it would spoil the plot if more was revealed.
‘The Mountaintop’ entertains, teaches, and makes us look into ourselves. It makes us think about racism, hero worship, and faith.
Freemon has created this alternative view of King. He is not a martyr or superhero but a human being with foibles, just like the rest of us. King is just a man who understood his place in history. But he still has a dream. Perhaps it is not the same dream he had a few years earlier, but a dream to help people of color and those in poverty in this country. Freemon does this with great ability and understanding for his character.
McPherson’s Camae is full of life — sultry, sexual, and intelligent. Camae has a strong understanding of King’s character. McPherson brings this role to life and the performance shows the depth of her talent.
Miriam Antoinette Bowden’s direction has allowed her actors to develop these wonderful roles. She creates marvelous and memorable pictures with creative movement. Under the fog of this pandemic, she has enlightened us through this play in the safety of our homes.
Eric Henry is the set designer and master carpenter. Henry’s hotel room is just dreary enough to visually tell us that King travels modestly, just a step above seedy. Steve Deming helps create the effects of this stormy and fateful night with his lighting and projection design. Chris Penick also contributes important sound design. Laura W. Andruski’s costumes are appropriate for the late 1960s, from MLK’s suit to Camae’s hotel uniform.
This production is a wonderful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Mountaintop” entertains, teaches, and makes us look into ourselves. The play makes us think about racism, hero worship, and faith. It is why theater is the oldest of the dramatic arts.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“The Mountaintop” is live-streamed from the Art Barn from February 19-28, 2021. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 per household. To purchase online, go to this link. To find out more about Rockville Little Theatre, click here. To find out more about Arts on the Green, click here. Please note all sales are final, with no refunds or exchanges. Online sales end 15 minutes before each performance. The show is live-streamed in partnership with Mandolin.