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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 26 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 39
Coffee and cigarettes with the King
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Coffee and cigarettes with the King

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

THE MOUNTAINTOP
ArtsWest
Through October 5


The gaudy neon lights of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis beam into a stale motel room of the mid-1960s. Outside, a springtime thunderstorm rages across the southern skies. Inside the cluttered motel room, an exhausted Martin Luther King, who is craving a Pall Mall cigarette, rushes in from the storm. He needs to finish his speech that is a rail against white America. He calls room service for coffee to settle him down and concentrate. Quickly thereafter, a maid named Camae comes with a white carafe of hot coffee for him.

In The Mountaintop, now playing at ArtsWest Theatre in West Seattle, Valerie Curtis-Newton directs a pre-mortem story about MLK that pulls you in with humor, wisdom, sentimentality, and bittersweet nostalgia. Curtis-Newton expertly balances the supernatural elements with the gravitas of MLK's life mission.

Playwright Katori Hall offers an alluring tale with competence and restraint. It stays within its magical realm and only hints at the true back-story we all know about MLK and the politics of its era. The Mountaintop is an eloquent and passionate plea for understanding our humanity.

In the dismal motel room, what ensues is a night of drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, deep conversation, conflict, and a bit of flirtation. It is a beautiful and touching dream-view of what Martin Luther King's last night was like. Scenic Designer Burton K. Yuen deserves a nod for his fine set design and Technical Director Jill Beasley deserves props for her surprising special effects in this production.

Reginald André Jackson, in his ArtsWest debut, portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He convinces us that the late civil rights preacher was just an ordinary man. He was a man with doubts about his speeches, insecurity with his looks, and deep love for his beloved family who he dearly misses. Jackson's performance is striking and moving.

As Camae, brianne a. hill, a graduate of University of Washington, solidly locks into the '60s black woman, but slowly transforms into a woman who transcends all ages. While MLK is indeed humanity, Camae is spirituality. Her performance is sublime and captivating.

Camae guides a discontent MLK through his final shaky evening and brings him to his mystical mountaintop. The Mountaintop is exhilarating as it is chilling. Afterward, you leave not wondering, 'Oh, what could have been?' but you leave wondering, 'Ah, what could be!'



ArtsWest continues to deliver excellent productions that build on last year's successful shows like Third and The Little Dog Laughed. The recent shuttering of Balagan should be a sign to the community that we must patronize our local theater venues. I thoroughly enjoyed Balagan's productions of August: Osage County and Spring Awakening. The Balagan and ArtsWest co-production of the upcoming Dogfight directed by Mathew Wright will continue on and be solely produced by ArtsWest.

The Mountaintop plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through October 5. The ArtsWest Box Office can be reached at 206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org

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