I will preface this by saying that I viewed the epic movie, SELMA! and the stirring play, The Mountaintop, within twenty-four hours of each other. While I was fairly young and living in the north when these events took place, I do have memories of dinner table conversations, front porch discussions, back porch arguments about the pros and cons of stirring up white folks and it being the perfect time to demand equality for our race and not so impartial news reports about both.
I remember the pride and reverence that everyone, well, everyone in my world, had in regard to Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember hearing his comforting voice, the hope in the call and response of the Negro people, as we were known then as he issued his peaceful giant’s call to action. A call to dignity…calls to equality…a call to justice…a call to destiny.
However, with all of the love, admiration and pride many of us had and have for Martin Luther King, Jr., we forget that he was human, a man subject to the same failings, faults and fears that all men and women experience.
It is here where The Mountaintop experience really begins, not with the often quoted “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech rendered hours before at the Mason Temple for the sanitation workers but here- at the Lorraine Hotel, 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis TN on a stormy Wednesday night, April 3, 1968.
The opening claps of thunder as King enters his hotel room, tired and disappointed; put the audience on notice that this is not going to be a usual night.
While Marc Pouhe’s physical appearance doesn’t match that of Dr. King, his mannerisms make the connection. Searching for listening devices that have become part of the décor wherever he goes, pacing while waiting on trusted friend, Ralph Abernathy to bring him his Pall Mall cigarettes. He calls the service for a cup of coffee and is informed room service has stopped for the night but for him they will make an exception. Enters the spirited, sassy, at times irreverent maid, Camae (portrayed by Carla Nickerson) with a vocabulary totally unlike that of the Church of God in Christ audience he just left.
At first she appears to be in awe if not a little intimidated by Dr. King but that soon passes as a connection develops between them that dissolves status, titles or stature. Her funny nature blends with his sometimes open and sometimes guarded demeanor as the increasing bursts of thunder visibly affect him.
We see a side of Martin Luther King, Jr. that the public was seldom if ever privy to. Yes, there are glimpses of his ‘appreciation of women’ but what we see that is more important is his vulnerability.
I am limited as to how much I can reveal without ‘spoiling’ it for others but I will say that their conversation covers the major areas of human opinions including politics, violence versus non-violence, (Camae has a unique take on how Dr. King could approach the race issue) to touching on his interaction with his wife and children.
The play has a few unexpected twists and for some may be a little over the top in certain areas but for all it is or isn’t, we get a little insight at what it’s like when a god isn’t on the pedestal.
While some say that Ms. Hall has blurred the lines between the temporal and the eternal, I think it was her destination all along. It’s a journey we all have to make, where what we believe is real meets what we know is truth.
Join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Marc Pouhe’) and Camae (Carla Nickerson) at the Austin Playhouse weekends until January 25th in Katori Hall’s dramatic and to some controversial play, The Mountaintop, directed by Don Toner, Artistic Director, Austin Playhouse.
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The Amen Circle
Posted by Damita Miller-Shanklin