The play was written by Memphis resident Katori Hall in 2009. It made an interesting journey on its way to a Broadway 2011 opening starring Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett. It originally opened at a London England fringe theatre and was such a hit there and won the British equivalent of a Tony, The Olivier Award in 2010.
The play opens on a stormy evening in the Memphis when Dr. King has returned for the evening, having made a speech to the protesting Memphis sanitation workers. He said in last speech “I‘ve been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land”. As if a prophesier of what was to happen the next day, he further said “I may not be there with you in that promised land.”
Ms. Hall’s play is a mythical meeting between King and a motel maid, Camae, who brings him coffee but lingers in Kings room, flirting and talking with him. King had been alone working nervously on a new speech and fretting that he was running out of his favorite Pall Mall cigarettes.
The attractive Came was not your average hotel maid, but very articulate and intelligent. She engages King in conversation covering politics, religion and his personal life. As an audience member whose knowledge of King was from reading about him in newspapers, seeing sound bites on TV, I found the insightful knowledge into King’s personality fascinating. We learned that he was christened Michael at birth, but his name was changed by this father at age 5. He liked to smoke, have a shot of whiskey in his coffee and that he was very cautious and always checking for F.B.I. bugs in his room. Most of us have read of his extra martial affairs, but no mention is made of this in this play although King certainly recognizes the attractiveness and sensual appeal of this maid.
Director Jack Barnard has been an exceptional award winning character actor and director on the local stages for many years. He directed a fine production of “A Raisin in the Sun” last season at Stage Aurora. His casting and direction of “The Mountaintop” was outstanding.Eugene Lindsey was superb as Dr. King and we truly felt we were in King’s presence. Lindsey’s vocal talent with his rich deep voice sounded like King himself. Matching his performance was Lavida Thomas-Richardson whose chemistry with Mr. Lindsey was remarkable.
As Camae, she was certainly in awe of Dirking, but was not afraid to challenge some of the decisions that he made along on his journey as a spiritual leader. We last saw Mrs. Thomas-Richardson as a featured dancer in “God’s Trombones” on this very stage. She has a very interesting resume. Born in London, she grew up on St.Kitts, started the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and was Miss UVI in l992. She has had an interesting life as a mother, wife and family physician. (Yes, there is MD after her name.)
We must confess we have not given you a complete story of this play. There is a twist toward the end we have left out hoping you will have the opportunity to see this incisive and provocative show in the future.