By Doc Lawrence
LAWRENCEVILLE, GA-The stunningly powerful production at the Aurora Theatre of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop is set in Memphis on the final night of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life. Can a civil right’s icon accept the inevitability of his ending the next day? How far will faith carry a man about to enter the valley of the shadow? Will death’s blow be painful? Is fear fairly allowed for a man who has encouraged his followers to rise up against injustice and confront danger?
It’s the night of April 3, 1968. The stage is a duplicate of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and the door to the balcony that will soon become the platform for Dr. King’s fatally wounded body is eerily authentic.
Prior to calling his wife in Atlanta, Dr. King searches his room for FBI surveillance bugs, and then orders coffee from room service. The maid, Camae, dutifully enters with a fresh pot. For an hour and a half, the colloquy between Camae and Dr. King covers the past and present events in King’s dangerous confrontations with established power. The future for him, however, will be witnessed from heaven, the fulfillment of his speech where he revealed his vision of the mountaintop where he saw the Promised Land.
While everyone will face death, few who are otherwise vibrant and healthy would be spared the fear of life ending. Joan of Arc in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan knows she will be executed but is afraid of fire. Dr. King, who is working on a speech that he will not be able to deliver, understandably wants to complete his work. But, there will be no more marches or even the opportunity for a final embrace of his wife and children. In The Mountaintop, Memphis almost becomes a version of the New Testament story of Gethsemane.
Neal Ghant’s powerful interpretation of Martin Luther King, Jr. is balanced brilliantly with the spellbinding performance of Cynthia D. Barker’s Camae. Throughout the exchanges with King, she adds extra energy and more than a little hilarity in the motel room during her first day of a new job. Both have their own mission dramatically revealed as the audience witnesses the tour de force of a journey along a preordained path.
Playwright Katori Hall presents Dr. King as a man no different than others. “The scars of his humanity,” he explains, “are what makes his achievements all the more remarkable. It lets us off the hook to deify him. There is greatness in all of us. We can carry on his dream.’
Through February 12. www.auroratheatre.org . (678) 226.6222