by Jenni Morin
At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The day before, Dr. King attended a rally for sanitation workers on strike and delivered his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech, the namesake for Katori Hall’s 2009 play The Mountaintop now playing through February 9 at the Little Carver Civic Center Theatre presented by The Renaissance Guild and The Carver Community Cultural Center.
The Mountaintop is a fictional account of the civil rights leader’s last night on the eve of his assassination. As King (Kevin Majors) awaits a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes to be delivered by fellow activist Ralph Abernathy, he meets Camae (Jessica Mitchell), a maid who brings him coffee and news about his fate. While a storm rages outside his motel room, King checks for wire-tapping and recording devices, making sure each boom of thunder hasn’t left a gunshot wound in his chest. He attempts to cope with his paranoia, but his 60-year-old heart in his 39-year-old body can hardly take the stress. Luckily, Camae is there to remind him, and the audience, of the great man’s humanity and humility with a large dose of saucy, at times seductive, humor. She flirts and cusses and brings out his tendencies uncharacteristic of a preacher.
Kevin Majors takes on the role of King with respect and reverie. He easily transitions from King the preacher/performer with affected speech, to King the man who is smooth talking around women like Camae. Jessica Mitchell brings life to Camae as a steady force. Despite some trouble with the script’s poor grammar vernacular in the beginning, she grew more confident alongside her character. Her excellent comedic timing and priceless expressions kept Majors and the audience on their toes. Majors and Mitchell’s on stage chemistry is undeniable as they feed off of one another’s energy. Even as realism begins its progression to the mystical, the consistency of their acting makes the shift almost imperceptible, keeping the audience engaged throughout the 90-minute piece.
The production features a set true to the actual room 306 where King often stayed at the Lorraine Motel while archived recorded speeches set the tone. The sound design is well devised and executed and accompanied by appropriate lighting. The closing sequence of historical video and photos underscored by a beat poetry like chant of activist events and people serves as a powerful call to action as “the baton passes on.”
The script unearths the eerie foreshadowing that insinuates King knew and was prepared for his assassination, while tackling a nearly crippling fear of its inevitability. Before leaving for Memphis, he gave his wife artificial flowers to last longer while he was away and his speech, which opens the play, detailed how he was not afraid of any man and may not reach the promised land with his followers. Conspiracy aside, Hall’s play reintroduces King as a man, a mortal, with weaknesses and failures.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The Mountaintop reminds us of the man behind the movement. Although he was only human, he spoke for those without a voice and peacefully affected change. The Mountaintop takes King from his pedestal and puts him among the people, so we may realize we’re not so different after all and we can make a stand and just maybe pass the baton.
The Mountaintop will run at The Little Carver Civic Center Theatre through February 9, 2014 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. on Sundays. This production contains strong language and the use of herbal cigarettes. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.therenaissanceguild.org.