Oscar E Moore

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THE MOUNTAINTOP – staring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett

October 14th, 2011 by Oscar E Moore

Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson give electrifying performances, igniting the dialogue and setting the stage of the Bernard Jacobs Theatre afire in the provocative, wildly imaginative, extremely funny and poignant new play THE MOUNTAINTOP by Katori Hall.

It is April 3, 1968 the day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Samuel L. Jackson) meets his death.  He has just given a rousing speech in support of the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee and has come back to the Lorraine Hotel, Room 306 wet, tired and coughing where he attempts to come up with some inspiring words for tomorrow’s oration while removing his shoes, revealing a hole in his sock and stinky feet while waiting for a friend to bring him a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes.  Impatiently he calls room service for some coffee. 

Camae (Angela Bassett) is there in an instant.  At once impressed but unafraid of Mr. K.  She is sassy and brazen and extremely pretty as he repeatedly points out.  It’s her first day on the job and she is at odds on how she should act and unable to control what comes out of her mouth.

What does comes out are some sparkling, insightful and riotously funny comments supplied by Ms. Katori, the playwright who has written a fine new play dealing with the most sensitive of subjects, God and mortality included, in a fresh and delightful and most very serious way.

Mr. King is depicted as all man here and not a Saint.  And Mr. Jackson has refined his oratorical skills while exposing the inner turmoil and thoughts of a person who has received death threats before but is in no hurry to meet his maker as he still has lots to accomplish.  A few lies here and there notwithstanding.

When he asks Camae what she would say if she were in his shoes, there follows a show stopping sermon that is as wise as it is full of wise cracks and has the audience in a frenzy as if at a revival meeting.

It’s obvious why Mr. K is so attracted and intrigued by this maid who has the nerve to spar with him as an equal.  It is so unexpected and so funny that you will wonder how this will all play out.

Well, I am not at liberty to divulge that.  I will only say that there is an abrupt change in the tone of the play when Camae calls Mr. King by his original name – Michael.  This radically sets the play off into another direction entirely.  A change that might invigorate, enrage or be hard to accept.

THE MOUNTANTOP is skillfully directed by Kenny Leon who has supplied a spectacular and inspirational finish with scenic and projection design by David Gallo, lighting design (Brian MacDevitt) incidental music (Branford Marsalis)  and of course Ms. Katori and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was Mr. Leon who brought us the brilliant FENCES last season.  Lightening has certainly struck twice with this production.

www.themountaintopplay.com  Photo of Theater Marquee: SPATE  Photo:  Joan Marcus

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