Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Five Guys Named Moe
The Mountaintop not only deals with the tragedy of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, but there is also a great deal of humor and lightness in the play. Indeed, The growing relationship between and King and Camae includes a great deal of flirting and, especially, the joys of smoking Pall Malls. Beyond this surface attraction, The Mountaintop also takes unexpected turns, even those touching on the supernatural. I would hate to give away too much of the plot, for this is really a production that needs to be discovered by the audience; the surprises only add to the show's power. The Mountaintop at Music Theatre of Connecticut is quite an emotional journey to take, but one that is well worth taking.
As the play begins, Martin Luther King, Jr. is just arriving at the Lorraine Motel and there are a number of phone calls that King makes, political and otherwise, including calling room service for a cup of coffee. Enter Camae, with the coffee. The director draws the audience in slowly, bit by bit, so one comes to care about these two people very much and wonders exactly where their relationship is leading. On the ideal set, expertly designed by Lindsay Fuori, the motel room really becomes much more than it seems and it is fascinating to watch these two characters interact.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. Chaz Rose has pretty big shoes to fill. He gauges his performance precisely, with much laughter and easiness at the beginning, eventually leading to heartache and other profound emotions. Rose is simply brilliant in the role and embodies Martin Luther King, Jr. completely. As Camae, Shavonna Banks is endearing and appealing, though one begins to wonder how she is possibly going to match her costar's excellence. Crucially, the playwright gives Camae a lengthy, bittersweet monologue near the end of the play and, in those moments, Banks becomes entirely Rose's equal and the results are heartrending.
In addition to eliciting these fine performances, the Gayle Samuels works magic with her designers, including terrific costumes, wonderfully designed by Diane Vanderkroef, right down to the holes in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s socks. RJ Romeo's lighting design and sound design are also fantastic. Still, if there is one design element that takes precedent, it is the projection design (also by Romeo), which helps bring The Mountaintop to its very peak, and to an overwhelming and cathartic conclusion.
The Mountaintop at Music Theatre of Connecticut is quite an achievement. One of the best things about this play (and this superb production) is that it goes places one couldn't possibly anticipate. Filled with both joy and pain, The Mountaintop is quite affecting. Featuring two megawatt stars, it delves fully into the life and loves of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., as both a leader and, ultimately, as a deeply vulnerable human being.
The Mountaintop runs through February 20, 2022, at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave., Norwalk CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com.