“The Mountaintop” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ November 18, 2013


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

One of our country’s most influential and eloquent Black Americans is born anew in James T. Alfred’s brilliant re-creation of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Katori Hall’s revealing snapshot of the great leader in Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Mountaintop.”  Opposite Alfred is Erika LaVonn portraying the Memphis motel maid Camae.  It’s April 3, 1968, just after King delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Sanitation Workers Strike, and the evening before the pastor and Civil Rights leader was assassinated.  He’s with the maid talking about his Civil Rights agenda and equality at a time this nation was just beginning to understand the critical importance of race relations.

Playwright Katori Hall creates a fictionalized account of the evening using her mother who was the motel maid.  The dialogue reveals King’s thinking which although now accepted was then still foreign to many whites.  It stresses the need for equality and the futility of assuming the races don’t stand side by side as they face injustice.  But the play also creates King’s vibrancy, illuminating his thinking, and revealing how slow this country was to adopt the principal that everyone is created equal.

And Hall makes Camae a revealing prophesier about the events surrounding Dr. King’s killing that allowed the leader to know his fate before it occurred.  The play leaves audiences with a vivid look at a great man that everyone wonders what would have happened had fate not ended King’s life at 39.

As staged with driving impulse and determination by Lou Bellamy and with the two forcefully realistic characterizations by Alfred as a flawless King and LaVonn as a believable and sharp Camae, Hall let’s us see King’s thinking and how Blacks were reacting to his leadership.

Everything about ATC’s superb staging contributes to recreating the fateful evening.  It allows us to see how much farther this country had to go before everyone’s Civil Rights were protected.

Beginning when you enter the theater and see set designer Vicki Smith’s re-creation of the motel room including a collection of historically accurate props that provide the perfect late ‘60s look.  But most significantly are the two brilliant actors, Alfred’s perfectly believable King and LaVoon’s slyly smart and perceptive Camae that make this such memorable theater.

“The Mountaintop” is a brilliantly insightful look at the struggles Blacks have tackled to begin to get the equality they are due while providing us with an imminent glimpse into one of our country’s greatest Civil Rights advocates.  The dramatically compelling play continues through December 1.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A