The timing of Trinity Rep's current production of "The Mountaintop" by Katori Hall could not be more fortuitous. The play is a fictionalized imagining of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's last night on earth in the motel in Memphis where he would later be shot. I saw the play on a day that was close to the date of Dr. King's birthday and on the eve of the inauguration of POTUS #45 (I try to avoid speaking or writing his name). The poignancy of the subject matter in juxtaposition to the current political climate was not lost on me or on other audience members. These are sobering times to contemplate sobering events from the past.
Ms. Hall's play is no exercise in hagiography. Dr. King (Joe Wilson, Jr.) is portrayed as a flawed human being and no plaster saint. We see him struggling with exhaustion, self-doubt, frustration, fear, and no small amount of attraction for the winsome Camae (Mia Ellis), the play's other character.
It is raining in Memphis, and Dr. King calls for room service to deliver coffee to him in Room 306. Camae appears, her first night on the job. We eventually learn that she has a job that is much broader than that of someone serving coffee at the Lorraine Motel. She challenges Dr. King on many fronts, causing him to think about many complex issues, including his own mortality, and to give voice to these thoughts and feelings.
These two impressive actors carry the action through an escalating arc of conflict and discovery. They are directed with a firm hand by Kent Gash. The set by Jason Sherwood recreates the claustrophobic tawdriness of a low budget motel in 1968. Late in the play, the set transforms and is aided by powerful projections designed by Shawn Duan. Several images have been added that were not part of the original design of this play, thereby catapulting the action to the present day. Lighting by Dawn Chiang and Sound by Justin Ellington complete the illusion that we are witnessing a rainy night in Memphis.
|Mia Ellis as Camae|
Joe Wilson, Jr. as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"The Mountaintop" by Katori Hall
Through February 12th
Mr. Wilson and Ms. Ellis offer up powerful and moving characterizations of Dr. King and Camae. They combine in subtle ways fragile humanity and transcendent otherworldliness. The content of the play and their nuanced interpretations of their complex characters left me in tears. "The Mountaintop" reminds us of how far we have come, and how far we still have to go to realize Dr. King's dream. This is a play that is worthy of your attention, and worthy of a trip to Providence. The play runs through February 12th.
Trinity Rep Website