“The Mountaintop” Offers a View of Shared Purpose and Unity

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Confetti Stage has invited the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY and its founder and Artistic Director, Jean-Remy Monnay to choose any play to present at The Linda this Black History month. In his curtain speech Remy described how he was compelled to take this opportunity because he had always had a dream of Capital Region companies working together. A dream that there would come a time when companies would do shows filled with actors of color, that there wouldn’t just be opportunities for actors of color when the community theatres decide to do “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Hairspray.” He also described that the dream included inclusive casting so that actors of color would be considered for any role when ethnicity is not central to the role. He challenged the audience, many of whom were Capital Region theater participants that we still have a long way to go in that respect. This year he chose “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream as well. We join him at the top of the play, played by Iniabasi Nelson, as he enters the Lorraine Motel room on 4/3/1968, the night before he is murdered. He has just delivered his famous Mountaintop speech where he portentiously exclaimed in the final paragraph “I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.” The speech was in support of a sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis.

Martin enters the room in the middle of a pouring rain storm and he shouts to his associate Ralph Abernathy to pick him up a pack of Pall Malls, he takes off his shoes revealing his smelly feet and we hear him urinating loudly. So, this is a portrait of the man on the night before he will meet his fate and there is a knock at the door. In comes the maid Camae played by Angelique Powell in a Crayola box performance that uses every color she has and then some. She’s delivering coffee and soon the maid on her first day of the job is tussling with the Civil Rights leader and they will flirt with each other, share Pall Malls, argue politics and intention and pillow fight before the play moves into a different realm.

This is a great play of speculative history, what might it have been like to visit this man at this moment and what might be going through his mind. It performs a great service by imagining and humanizing the great man (some may object that it goes too far in that regard) and giving us entry into the quotidian details of what it takes to walk the long road of a life committed to social justice. In his Mountaintop speech he also speaks of unity and how the Pharaoh cannot hold onto power if the slaves are united. The play captures King in this moment of time and through a terrific magical device which I can’t reveal more gives him and us a view of the Promised Land. A view that challenges us with all that’s left to be done, much more so now than in 2011 when the play premiered on Broadway.
Angelique Powell is terrific in this role and, if possible, even better than you imagine she would be. It’s a great match of performer and role but I was not prepared for her unabashed freedom in the role. She is lightning quick, powerfully direct and I have never heard her pealing laughter used to greater effect. She is otherworldly in this part. A great welcome to Iniabasi Nelson, making his community theatre debut taking on this monument of a role. He could be clearer and more forceful in his speech but he deserves great credit for his work in this towering role and holding his own against Powell.

The physical production is sketched in with a door flat, a wall stage left and a bed borrowed from the director’s guest room as he announced in the curtain speech. Jean-Remy has created a good dynamic of the actors working off each other but could have gone further with the magic required by the script. He is greatly assisted by a sound design by Chad Reid, lighting design by Nicholas Nealon.

Jean-Remy Monnay and BTTUNY have taken Confetti Stage’s invitation and created a beautiful gift of a production that thrills, entertains and most importantly forces us to align our actions with our beliefs and pick up the baton and move the race forward. My most sincere gratitude to all involved for the enormous amount of work on display here.

Through 3/1
Tickets: Click Here

Photos by Skye McCashion
Iniabasi Nelson as Martin Luther King, Jr., Angelique Powell as Camae
Poster by Lucy Breyer

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