“The Mountaintop” at Art West

Martin Luther King, Jr. scurries out of the rain into his Memphis motel room…just one more stop on his ever demanding speaking and rallying tour. But this stop will be his last. We all know what happened the tragic evening when he stepped out onto the balcony.

He’s bone-tired, lonely for his family, and desperate for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He checks the phone to see if it’s wired, knowing his enemies would do anything to get some dirt on him, anything that might shut him up. Then he calls room service and orders coffee.

In comes an attractive, sharp-tongued, know-it-all maid, and so begins an emotionally taut and wrenching play you’re not likely to forget. Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton it’s a tour de force. Playwright Katori Hall has provided us a look behind the myth, a sense of Martin Luther King the man, and she does it with some of the sharpest dialog I’ve heard in a long time.

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Photo credit to Michael Brunk

King is exhausted, weary of living with fear for his life, outraged by marchers who loot, indignant at the demeaning lies presented in the white press, and disappointed by his failure to move faster toward his goal. The maid, Carrie May (Camae) has more than some coffee and a little wisdom to impart.

Seattle actor Reginald André Jackson creates a dignified King, reinforcing the man’s stature even as he reveals his flaws. He humanizes this noble hero. Brianne A. Hill who plays Camae, the maid, comes to us from Minnesota, and I for one want to mount a campaign to keep her here in Seattle. She is a sparkling new star on the horizon. Her Camae is self assured and cheeky. She’s a woman in charge, and she lets King know it from their first encounter. But she’s also tender and compassionate.

The interplay between these two actors is spellbinding. They draw you in, play with your emotions, shock you, and tease you. You will certainly laugh, you may well cry. Above all, you’ll walk out of the theatre so glad you didn’t miss this wonderful production.

Through Oct. 5 at Arts West Theatre, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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