Fantastical Imagining of Final Night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life Takes Rare Look At the Human Side of the Legendary Figure And Offers Compelling Bridge From This World To the Next
Opens July 27 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre
Heritage Theatre Festival will wrap up its 2018 season with The Mountaintop, an Olivier Award-winning play by Katori Hall. The Mountaintop is built around a fantastical imagining of the final night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, and a chance encounter with a motel maid that offers a rare window into the human side of the American icon and presents a compelling bridge from this world to the next.
The Mountaintop will be presented from July 26-August 5 at the Ruth Caplin Theatre, and will be directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams. Tickets begin at $15 and are available at the UVA Drama Building at 109 Culbreth Road, online at www.heritagetheatrefestival.org or by calling 434-924-3376.
The Mountaintop is set on April 3, 1968 in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A weary Dr. King, fresh from his legendary “Mountaintop” speech, gets a visit from Lorraine maid Camae. From the minute the motel room door closes, Hall opens a unique window into Dr. King’s mind and heart as he shares his thoughts, fears, hopes, regrets, and dreams for the future, and as he and Camae forge a unique and compelling connection.
The “two-hander” play stars Atlanta-based Enoch King as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and New York-based Suzette Azariah Gunn (known to audiences nationally from her recurring role on the CBS drama The Good Fight) as Camae. Williams said that from the very first rehearsal, the actors forged their own connection on stage. “They both bring such talent and wisdom and experience to the piece, and have a great chemistry between them that adds to Katori’s remarkable words to make the play even more dynamic.”
In addition to the draw of working with Heritage Artistic Director Jenny Wales, a former colleague at PlayMakers Repertory in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Hunter-Williams said she was particularly intrigued about the opportunity to take audiences on the imagined journey that Katori Hall has created. “One thing we have to be really clear about is that no one knows what really happened in Room 306 in the Lorraine Motel during the overnight hours from April 3 to 4,” she said. “But Katori has humanized the man, as he reflects about his life. There is humor, there is sexual tension, there is joy, there is reflection, there are regrets, there is forgiveness. So, in a way, it is everything that makes us human wrapped up in one 90-minute piece.”
Hunter-Williams was also drawn to directing the play in today’s difficult political climate, and especially given the production’s unique timing in the 50th anniversary year of Dr. King’s assassination, and a year removed from the tragic events of last August 12th in Charlottesville. “Part of the appeal for me of doing this play right now comes from looking at it in terms of the temperature of the country right now,” she said. “Some days when I have been working on it I have been thinking about what Dr. King, who would now be in his 90’s, might say about where we are right now. And of course, here we are in Charlottesville almost a year to the day of the march and the tragic murder of Heather Heyer.”
While these are intensely complicated issues, Hunter-Williams said, she feels that theater as a medium has a unique ability to address them. “The mood in this country is so drastically different, and there is this artistic challenge that is put before us,” she said. “I really feel like theater is the best place to ask, and wrestle with those questions. There is something that happens when we all sit in that dark space together. We start to breathe together, in a sense. Some studies have shown that our heartbeats and our breaths become synchronized, which creates a communal experience no other art form can replicate. So what better place can there be in which to raise these questions, and then, when the lights come up, to really look to each other for answers. Because that is where I truly believe that answers can be found.”
Hunter-Williams hopes that the audience experience can go beyond artistic appreciation into the realm of an understanding of our shared responsibility and potential to make a difference. “I think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the man for the time and for where the country was. Now we are in a different place. So who takes that responsibility now? What Katori does in the play is let us know that every single one of us has the capacity to be a Dr. King. Here was a man who was at times conflicted about the meaning of the movement, a man who sometimes felt like he failed. And sometimes he did fail. He was human. He made mistakes. So you look at all of this, at how Katori presents him in this play, and you think, any one of us can be doing this. And every one of us should be doing this.”
Ticket information can be found here.
The 2018 Heritage Theatre Festival season is dedicated to the memory of David W. Weiss, a founder of Heritage Theatre Festival and the former Chair of the UVA Department of Drama.
Free parking for all Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.