Sunday, March 10, 2013

"The Mountaintop" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Mmmm hmmm hmmm! After seeing the regional premiere of Katori Hall's brilliant "The Mountaintop," which runs at the Lucie Stern through April 7, we are asked not to divulge the secret which takes a lighthearted, humorous story and turns it into something you will not be able to stop talking about.

In that top photo you are looking at Martin Luther King (played by Adrian Roberts), standing at the door of Room 206 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and the hotel's service employee Camae (Simone Missick), on her first night on the job, who has been sent up to bring Dr. King a cup of coffee.

Innocent enough. Dr. King wonders what has happened to his associate Ralph Abernathy, who has been sent to bring back a pack of cigarettes. Great sexual tension develops between Martin and Camae, enough that you are quite certain that this story will end up in one of those two motel beds.

Mmmm hmmm hmmm! Well, now.

Part of the tremendous power of this show revolves around us understanding what fate will befall Dr. King the next day, which means the author is free to dwell on historical backstories that we sometimes forget, such as the struggle between the violent and nonviolent wings of the civil rights movement, as well as the view that Dr. King had come to represent a more upper class of African American, while the down-home common man was far more ready to fight than talk.

When this show opened in New York, the leads were played by none other than Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett. But the show got lukewarm reviews. Seeing Roberts and Missick, you wonder how these two parts could possibly be played any better. Missick, especially, is a show stopper. The ending -- well, we've said all we are allowed to, except this: please do not miss "The Mountaintop."

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Mountaintop" Four Stars. The two-person ensemble wins two of them, Anthony J. Haney's perfect direction wins another (We are already Haney fans, going back to his direction of Lynn Nottage's "Intimate Apparel"), and of course playwright Hall earns the fourth. When Dr. King says "...they hate so easily and we love too much..." we are both saddened and reminded of how far we've come and how high that mountaintop remains.

"The Mountain Top"
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through April 7

Photo credit: T. Martin and M. Kitaoka

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