BWW Reviews: THE MOUNTAINTOP - The Man, Myth and Magic
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by Tina Saratsiotis
Enter Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of April 4, 1968. It is the last night of Martin Luther King's life.
The man we first encounter is not the towering legend. He is coming in from the rain, weary, coughing and desperately craving a Pall Mall.
Americans build up their icons to near hysterical levels of idolization, and then ferociously tear them down when that fantasy clashes with reality. Finally, we collect ourselves, and the icons and their legacy are rebuilt with a more mature view of human nature.
This is fortunate for playwrights who like nothing better than to re-imagine the parts of history that occur behind closed doors in private moments and times unrecorded.
Here, Katori Hall knows how to take on one of our country's most tragic events and turn it into an audacious theatrical adventure all within the four walls of a dingy motel. The play is brash without being offensive, gutsy without being reckless, and visionary without the weight of self-importance.
As Martin Luther King, Shawn Hamilton brings forth all the parts that sum up a great man with a conviction and talent that honors the history and enlightens those who will only know King through the prism of the past.
We see King's humor, flaws and struggles and like him all the more. Even icons get tired and hungry. They fall down, pick themselves up and find the courage to trudge on. We identify with this King so well that when Hamilton transforms into the King that is the trail-blazing leader, we are almost startled as if seeing him for the first time.
When Camae, the hotel maid, enters into the picture, we think we're in for trouble. Myxolydia Tyler fills the stage with energy and a fierce intelligence that proves both challenging and tempting to King. She is the ordinary made extraordinary. But then so is Martin Luther.
Greatness doesn't require perfection. The setting of the play is central to the idea that no dingy motel, no poverty, no bad luck can stop the progress of those stubborn enough to scramble over the rubble, climb over the walls and progress toward the light-no matter what.
Director Kwame Kwei-Armah calibrates the chemistry, humor and drama to the right pitch. THE MOUNTAINTOP is compelling entertainment that makes you want to learn more. If history class were this exciting, we would have paid more attention. The dreams of lost leaders don't die with them. History is not done with us. We are living it, every mundane, marvelous, terrifying moment.
THE MOUNTAINTOP runs through February 24 at CenterStage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. For tickets call the box office at 410-332-0033 or go online to centerstage.org