Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
It is almost inevitable to discover one's idol has feet of clay, but for them to be smelly also, is no doubt a rarity. Yet it apparently happens. We are introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the last night before his death, as the man behind the myth, the ordinary yet extraordinary human being in a motel, seeking coffee from room service. Ivey (who you may have seen in Jim Cady's production of Blood Knot at The Vortex Theatre) is perfect in this role. From the author's imagination we peek into a time he is not in the limelight, when, away from the roar of the crowds and the ever-present fear of assassination, he can exhale, even as he checks the room for bugs.
His peace is interrupted and things take a turn with the arrival of a maid delivering said coffee. This is where the play really takes off. Nicee Wagner's embodiment of Camae is truly extraordinary. She is a veritable triumph in this role. She made me laugh, this sassy maid, and later she almost made me cry. Lots of laughter precedes tougher emotions, ones that fly back and forth between the duo. Her speech alone is worth the price of the ticket.
The lonely Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invites Camae to stay and visit, and soon they form a close connection, each shedding their real role in life. We are treated to some marvelous scenes as this metamorphosis occurs. The couple gain respect for each other, leading to an unexpected equity. With help from Camae's hip flask of alcohol and stash of cigarettes, Ivey shows King's other side–his quick wit and playfulness, and his inability to refrain from occasionally strutting his stuff. Yet soon the solemn, thoughtful man reappears and we witness the angst of the hunted. His "as long as I am afraid, I'm still alive" is especially poignant for the audience, knowing as we do his fate.
Wagner's Camae is a role within a role (no spoilers) and once again she turns the play on its head. Fearing she may not complete a task, she resorts to bribes and pleas. She makes many attempts to achieve her goal and is stalwart in her efforts. Poor girl. Unseen and unheard, another character, one who Camae reports to, will impact the outcome.
This is a great production, so good that my "handsome younger colleague" (his words, not mine!) who I brought along with me, returned the following night with another (possibly less handsome) friend. So good to hear that. We both learned a lot, as The Mountaintop is factually correct, and the rest is a figment of the author's (the first Black woman to ever win an Olivier award) imagination, possibly created as a vehicle to present us with a reality.
Costumes by Jason Godin reflect the era perfectly, as do Linda Wilson's set, props, and scenic art. Echo Dobie does double duty as stage manager and board operator (unfortunately, the slide show went on the blink on opening night, but is fixed now. I'll be returning myself next week to see that addition), and the lighting waxes and wanes, beautifully capturing each mood, the raging storm outside occasionally invading both our space, and King's nerves. Don't miss this production; it only has a four week run, so get a move on.
The Mountaintop runs through February 11, 2024, at the Adobe Theater, 9813 4th St. NW Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m. Sunday 2:00 p.m.. For tickets and information, please visit adobetheater.org.