‘The Mountaintop’ offers view of American icon facing mortality


The sonorous tones of Martin Luther King Jr., interspersed with strains of an old spiritual ring out in
the Eva Marie Saint Theatre at Bowing Green State University.
This is the American icon of the Civil Rights Movement in all his glory.
When the lights come up and King, played by Lance Green Jr., enters his room in the Lorraine Motel we are
introduced to a far more human preacher.
Here is the man, proud of but not at all comfortable, with his status. The thunder startles him because
an assassin’s bullet is never far from his mind. He knows standing in the pulpit, he is the tallest
tree, the one his white enemies would most like to fall.
"Fear," he says at one point, "is my companion."
He greets it in the morning as confirmation that he’s still alive.
And this April 3, 1968, is his last night on earth.
In Katori Hall’s "The Mountaintop" we spend that evening with him, and a visitor. Camae (Alexis
Maxine Man) arrives with the coffee he called for. But she lingers, and as she stays the nature of her
mission is revealed.
All this unfolds in one long – over 90 minutes –  act.  The intimacy of the Eva Marie Saint puts us in
that dishevelled motel room with them, sharing the tensions and revelations, unspoken partners to their
The script is in no hurry to reveal its secrets as the preacher, trying to maintain his dignified persona
even as he lets down his guard, talks with the beautiful, earthy motel maid.
Or is she a motel maid, given her occasional strange turns of phrase and surprising eloquence?
Camae challenges King’s beliefs. He is at once attracted to her and suspicious. At one point he becomes
convinced she has been sent to seduce him in order to discredit his work.
The play, directed by Dr. Eileen Cherry-Chandler, offers no place to hide. As Green and Mann circle,
grapple and face off, each action must be true. Even as King talks on the phone, Mann is seated on the
other side of the stage, mugging as commentary on what’s said.
She balances a sassy attitude not afraid to call King on his bourgeoisie attitudes, and a deep respect
for the leader. She expresses an anger about the treatment of African-Americans that he’s more likely to
keep in check. She curses liberally, then apologizes halfheartedly
Green does well to evoke the familiar image of King, even as he confront the daily indignities of someone
always on the move. Though he is working on a new speech on the theme that America is hellbound, he
seems pleased with this attractive distraction, even if Camae is quick to note his faults.
All this adds to the humor that’s surprising given the tragedy that awaits just outside the time frame of
the play.
With no intermission, the audience lives this night with the two characters until the final revelations
which offer both hope and frustration of what’s changed and what’s not changed much at all.

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