Review: Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop”

The Mountaintop is playing at the Matrix Theatre through April 10, 2016 (photo: Urban Girl Media)

The Mountaintop is playing at the Matrix Theatre through April 10, 2016 (photo: Urban Girl Media)

The Matrix Theatre Company honors Black History Month with the Los Angeles premiere of The Mountaintop, directed by Obie Award-winner Roger Guenveur Smith and starring Larry Bates and Danielle Truitt. Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award, Katori Hall’s gripping and often humorous re-imagining of events the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. takes on new meaning with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It was really important for me to show the human side of King,” noted Hall in an interview. ”During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights – economic issues – and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable.”

2 Urban Girls spoke with the plays director, Roger Guenveur Smith, who feels its important for African-American artists to get their work out, anyway they can.  “No longer do we have to sit around and wait for someone to give us the green light.  We have the capacity to go out and get it for ourselves.”

Larry Bates and Danielle Truitt Photo by I C Rapoport

Larry Bates and Danielle Truitt
Photo by I C Rapoport

The play was remarkable in Hall’s ability to incorporate 21st Century jargon, into the dialogue between the actors.

The setting is peaceful.  The entire room is white.  From the opening scene, you can feel the danger Dr. King, played by Larry Bates, faced when traveling to cities and staying in rooms he felt could be compromised.

After meeting “Ca-May”, played by Danielle Truitt, it is revealed to the audience she is no regular maid, but indeed an angel sent from God, to prepare Dr. King for his impending death.

The Matrix Theatre provided the right setting to feel the warmth, comfort and serenity leading up to that horrible, violent and unexpected death.

The most riveting part of the play takes place between a phone call Dr. King is having with God.  He pleads with “her” to spare his life citing so much work to do.  The audience filled with laughter when Dr. King is told Jesse Jackson Jr. will take over for him.

You could also feel the sorrow when Dr. King tries to reach his wife one last time, by phone, but she doesn’t answer.  No cell phone.  No voicemail.  Just despair that he couldn’t speak to her one last time.

Hall inserted images of what has transpired since the death of Dr. King.  Would he be happy with the direction of the African-American population.  Did we pick up the baton and keep his message going?

This play was a pleasant surprise and an excellent fictional account of what could have truly transpired the night before Dr. King’s death.

The Mountaintop is playing at the Matrix Theatre at 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA  90046 until April 10, 2016.  

For ticket prices and showtimes visit the theatre’s website

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