Let’s take you to the mountaintop.
—Camae, the housekeeper, tells Dr. King
Every year, around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, his televised speech “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top,” held at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee on Wednesday April 3, 1968 — the eve of his death. He went there to support the strike by the sanitation workers. It’s still a powerful address filled with hope and commitment to a better way of life, not only all for African Americans, but for anyone who’s breathing. While other films, cover MLKJ life, The Mountaintop focuses on King’s last night before he was murdered on Thursday, April 4th 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee, now a museum. Dr. King (wonderfully portrayed by Jon Michael Hill) comes in from the heavy rain after a previous event. He stays at the flea bag motel preparing his speech for the sanitation workers who are on strike.
It’s early morning and he decides to work on the speech and calls room service for coffee. He gets more than that. He gets an earful of stories from pretty looking housekeeper Camae (the talented Amanda Warren) bringing him coffee. Immediately the flirtation, first from King and continued with Camae, begins. They connect by smoking Pall Malls and adding some whiskey, Camae pulls out her tin flask, and pours it into the King’s coffee. They temporarily make eyes, she calls him Preacher Kang, on each other which makes King reach the phone to check on his wife, Coretta. Camae and King manage to get it together and quickly leave their mutual attraction outside in the rain.
Hill does an excellent job as King. The most important element is that he makes King human. He peels away the layers of being the almighty King, fighting for justice for his people and for those who have no voice. Instead, the audience receives a more humane King. He likes to smoke, have a taste of strong liquor and definitely finds other women attractive, but doesn’t act on it, or at least we like to think so. Hill does an excellent job in balancing the King image that people see and the King known personally by friends and family. As Camae, Warren is amusing, heartwarming and a master of quick bantering. No wonder she and the King make a dynamic duo.
Playwright Katoryi Hall wrote an illuminating and a could-have-happened story. Hall has all the key elements: real live individuals in an impossible situation, a possible connection between the two and an imagined conversation that could possibly have happened. If it did, good gossip no matter how old is good, while, made up gossip makes good dinner time talk. King taking a smoke or a swig of alcohol makes him more into an affable friend. Hall has made a strong leader appear vulnerable. Camae represents the member of the crowd wanting to get close to the king. Hill amplifies King’s vulnerability by having him be genuinely upset by the made up belief that his work is not enough. He feels the urgent need to do more before it’s too late. The thunder and lightning makes him jump into Camae’s comforting arms.
Taking it as a sign from above that he’s not done with his work. Camae reminds Preacher Kang that his work was not in vain. The crowd heard and liked what he has done, more importantly, his work will continue, even when he won’t be able to lead.
The Mountaintop plays at the Geffen Playhouse, located at 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, CA. The Mountaintop plays Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and ends Sunday, July 9th at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $39 – $129, logon to www.geffenplayhouse.org.
Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.