Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Playhouse

This scene from “Mountaintop” at the Cleveland Playhouse shows Martin Luther King Jr. (Ro Boddie) interacting with Camae (Angel Moore) in the hotel.

 

March 29, 2016

‘Mountaintop’ intrigues audience

There’s a startling sense of intimacy in the small Outcalt Theater as we share, courtesy of the Cleveland Play House, the last few hours of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.

In Katori Hall’s fictitious “The Mountaintop,” it’s Memphis on April 3, 1968, the evening before MLK’s assassination, and we have been invited to join him (Ro Boddie) and the late-shift maid, Camae (Angel Moore), for a cup of coffee, a few cigarettes and plenty of conversation in room 305 of the Lorraine Motel.

Hall has stripped the civil rights legend of the saint-like persona history has bestowed on him, and laid him bare – exhausted, wet from the rain, flawed and human – to show his vulnerability. This, in turn, forges an immediate bond between the man and the audience, which showcases his remarkable achievements and – under Carl Cofield’s direction – makes even more dramatic the very moment when his life comes to an abrupt end before our eyes.

Unlike the casting of Samuel L. Jackson in the failed Broadway production in 2011, Boddie is ideal in the role of King. Instead of having an American icon playing another American icon on stage, we immediately believe – even for a short time in this one-act play – that Boddie is King, and his suffering is real. When he breaks down into loud sobs in the arms of Camae as his fate is approaching, his imminent death is not only profound but personal.

Moore’s chemistry with Boddie is electric. There are moments when the two simply look into each other’s eyes and it seems as if a force is pulling them closer together and taking us with them.

The connection seems so very real that when the mood of the play shifts from realism to the metaphysical as it reaches its climax, we willingly go along for the ride.

Complementing the action, Wilson Chen’s set is designed simply, realistically and, with the audience seated so close we can almost touch the performers, it’s as if we are seated in the motel room itself.

Alan C. Edwards and Elisheba Ittoop’s lighting and sound designs add even more realism – that is, until they combine with Dan Scully’s digital projections and bring this production to its rather astounding, hyper-theatrical conclusion.

The CPH production ended its run on Feb. 14 but, as one of the most produced plays in the last year, “The Mountaintop” will surely be coming again soon to a theater near you.



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