Katori Hall is the kind of young playwright I love, and I love that this young fire-starter has a play on Broadway with movie stars and direction by Kenny Leon, a guy who has done tremendous work with August Wilson’s plays. With creative stuff like this on Broadway by a young playwright, the theatrical future looks a little brighter this season!
The Mountaintop is a kaleidoscopic look at Martin Luther King Jr. We find King (Samuel Jackson) on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. Exhausted, Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis while a storm rages outside. Peculiar maid Camae (Angela Bassett), who is not what she at first appears, delivers room service, and forces King to confront both his past and his legacy.
Hall presents King in a very human light, with smelly feet and sinfully lusting eyes. However, after starting out in a realist vein that borders on docudrama, Hall introduces turn after turn of theatrical magic that puts King in a spiritual context which surprises even him. Sitcom-y one second and profoundly mystical the next, The Mountaintop plays with style with a very nearly reckless abandon. Sometimes this recklessness falls flat, as with anachronistic jokes about telephones that are neither funny nor insightful. More often, though, Hall takes exciting risks that pay off big time.
Bassett is more successful in the more dramatic and magical moments of The Mountaintop – while she hits the majority of her comic marks, she sometimes oversells a joke that would be funnier if delivered simply. Hall has written Dr. King somewhat more realistically, and Jackson plays him with a quiet dignity and unassumingly flawed humanity.
The Mountaintop exceeded my expectations (most of the time, anyway), which is not something that happens very often with plays on Broadway. Hall displays fantastic imagination and creativity here, and I can’t wait to see what she dreams up next!
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