Our collective memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that of the sanitized savior gun downed in his effort to make life better for black people. The critically-acclaimed “The Mountaintop,” strips away some of King’s shine give us a fuller picture of this great leader and his journey.
The play stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. It’s set in room 304 of the Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. The play takes place the night before King was assassinated. It shows King as a smoker, a womanizer and vulnerable. I had the opportunity to see it in New York this year, and the play deserves the accolades. For King worshippers, of which I am one, it’s unsettling to see him as a chain-smoking, drinking, flirt.
Yet, it also makes King seem human. Jackson and Bassett are electrifying. Once you get past King’s negative attributes, it’s easy to settle into the message of the play about King’s struggle to be the voice of people who didn’t know they needed a voice and who rarely spoke with one voice.
Bassett plays a temptress maid sent to deliver King coffee and a whole lot of sass. However, it’s a little hard to see her in the role of a young giggly maid. The role is so different from the characters she typically plays in movies so it take some getting used to. The play also feels a little long and starts to lose wind in the second half, but the finale is well worth the wait.
“The Mountaintop” closes Jan. 22. To read about Charlotte’s connection to the play read Mary Curtis’ article on QcityMetro.