It’s the night before Martin Luther King (Samuel L. Jackson) will be shot and killed. We’re in his Memphis motel room where he waits for a compatriot to return in horrible weather. Restless and impatient, he calls for room service. And eventually a chamber maid, Camae (Angela Bassett), brings coffee. Likewise black (Camae, not the coffee, though perhaps the coffee too), she of course represents a stark working class contrast to his white collar position as preacher and political pundit; and these being The Mountaintop’s only two characters, playwright Katori Hall is, of course again, intent on exploring their similarities and points of communion, as well as their differences.
It’s a comfortable enough matter of public record by now that in his private life, King was no saint, and Ms. Hall goes right for the imperfect male behind the perfect image, and has a good deal of fun with it. The final of course is that Camae is, to paraphrase Yogi Bear, smarter than the av-er-age maid—or at the very least, more consequential and connected.
More than that, one dare not specify for fear of enormous spoilers. Though I’ll allow myself to suggest that Camae speaks for a middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, that lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. Yes, it’s that kind of, er, episode. And as such, it’s really, ultimately, an exploration of intent and accomplishment versus legacy. And as such, it doesn’t say anything terribly profound…but it says it entertainingly. And under the deft direction of Kenny Leon, the two stars spark off each other’s considerable wattage very nicely.
In fact, The Mountaintop is amazingly effective feelgood Americana propaganda, albeit totally from an African American perspective, which (I think) makes it a unique entity in any medium. And I don’t know if Ms. Hall intended that. But it’s what she has, and it’s appeared at the right time to do the most good.
many plays manage that trick…
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