Review by Greg Haymes
“I’m not perfect…”
“I’m a man, just a man…”
“I’m a sinner, not a saint…”
Indeed, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Katori Hall’s powerful, award-winning play “The Mountaintop” is just a man. At times, a prideful man. At times, a vain man. But a man nonetheless with all of the attendant frailties.
He lies to his wife.
And he has stinky feet.
Set in a drab, less-than-elegant room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 3, 1968 – the night before King would be assassinated – “The Mountaintop” is an imagining of what might have possibly (and impossibly) happened during King’s final hours, as he engages in wide-ranging conversation with Camae, one of the hotel’s chambermaids.
As Capital Repertory Theatre’s artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill explained in her short pre-curtain talk on opening night, it’s “a collision of history and fiction.”
The smart set design by David Esler and lighting design by Michael Giannitti combine to perfectly conjure up the loneliness and isolation of an Edward Hopper painting. And King (played with a firm hand and delicate understatement by Brandon Jones) is swallowed up in it as he balances pride and doubt.
And while King is of course at the center of “The Mountaintop,” it’s Camae (a magnificent and nuanced performance by Liz Morgan) who is the catalyst, moving the play forward as it makes a bold, but ultimately rewarding leap from dramatic naturalism to magic realism.
Director Nick Mangano has created 90 minutes of captivating theater. “The Mountaintop” is not without its flaws, but it’s undeniably fascinating and thought-provoking.
“The Mountaintop” continues at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany through Sunday, February 9. Ticket prices range from $20-$60. There will also be a discussion with the cast and director following the performance on Wednesday (February 5). And the Sunday, February 9 matinee performance will be preceded by a Behind-the-Scenes event, featuring a complimentary light continental breakfast (12:30pm) and discussion led by Capital Repertory’s artistic director Maggie Mancineeli-Cahill (1pm).