NY1 Theater Review: "The Mountaintop"
"The Mountaintop,” a new play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has a lot going for it, including a starring role for Samuel L. Jackson, but odd writing ultimately makes for a disappointing time. NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following review.
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With its lofty title and iconic central figure, "The Mountaintop" aims high, and while its subject, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is certainly important, this is not a very important play. Aside from a stunning coup de theatre in the final 10 minutes, "The Mountaintop" is disappointingly earthbound.
It's April 3, 1968, the night before the famed civil rights leader is killed by an assassin's bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Set designer David Gallo's meticulous recreation of King's room is chilling. Playwright Katori Hall imagines another character on the scene: a spunky hotel maid named Camae who shares King's final hours.
Amid much banter, the play fails to shed any new light on the subject. It's been thoroughly documented that King was a flawed man, and as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, he does emerge wonderfully human. However, any revelations about his thoughts, his motivations and fears all stem from the author's invention and fantasy, and it gets weird.
Preachy one moment and then flippantly surreal, the play features a pillow fight and discussions about God being a black woman who uses a cell phone.
Given Hall's feminist leanings, it's no surprise that Camae has the better lines and gets the biggest laughs. She even gets to steal King's thunder by delivering her own civil rights speech. I started to wonder whose life story is this anyway?
Angela Bassett proves herself a capable stage actress, though the humor often seemed forced and she came close to channeling comedian Wanda Sykes.
Director Kenny Leon salvages the play with a knockout montage sequence featuring Bassett at her very best. If only the rest of "The Mountaintop" could rise to such impressive heights.