Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Hall's play is an imaginative look at the last night of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Ro Boddie). Exhausted and fighting laryngitis, he has returned to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 3, 1968, after giving his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. (The next night, he was assassinated on the motel balcony.) The timely interruption of a motel maid, Camae (Renea Brown), leads to a conversation about what a leader is capable of doing, what constitutes a legacy, and ultimately one's place in history.
Boddie plays King as a man determined to keep going although he believes his time is running out. "If I'm still afraid, I'm still alive," he tells Camae, an outspoken woman who cusses, smokes "like a man," and knows why she's there. This version of King is deeply human, worrying about his smelly feet after a long day and lonely for his family in Atlanta. While at first he is physically attracted to Camae, it's her surprising insights that keep him interested and, eventually, astonished.
As a character, Camae has many aspects, most of which reveal themselves gradually, and Renea Brown nails each one. As played by Brown, Camae often seems as surprised by what she says as King is, and she understands that her role in his life is as a catalyst rather than an active participant.
Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg demonstrates a sure touch with both the everyday and the unexpected elements of Hall's script, finding ways to make the more fantastical moments seem of a piece with the mundane–cigarettes, whiskey, and memories–and the everyday quality of Brandee Mathies' costumes. Paige Hathaway's scenic design seems a realistic view of a nondescript motel room until Sherrice Mojgani's lighting design, Nick Hernandez's sound design, and especially Zavier A.L. Taylor's projections design reveal it as something much more cosmic in nature.
The Mountaintop runs through November 5, 2023, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
By Katori Hall