CPH shows a glimpse of MLK’s last night in “The Mountaintop”
Cleveland Play House’s “The Mountaintop” is unassuming at first. Within the first few minutes of the performance, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walks into a dingy motel room, takes off his shoes and takes a wizz in a bathroom offstage.
Slowly, the play evolves into an existential reality about the events of King’s assassination. But first, there’s the reality that’s presented onstage.
“The Mountaintop” presented King (actor Ro Boddie) as an imperfect human; one who was sexist, deceiving and flirty. This presentation of the activist pulled back from the more common, often more idealized image and made King flawed.
A memorable moment was when King starts hitting on hotel worker Camae (Angel Moore) right before calling his wife and children. And when he states that one of Camae’s speeches was good, “for a woman,” her rage is understandable; in “The Mountaintop,” King isn’t too feminist.
Moore was energetic as Camae’s playful, young character, but provided depth later in the play, as an angel sent from heaven to prepare King for his death. Camae is both childlike and motherly at different points in the play; she giggles and jumps around on the hotel beds during a pillow fight, but also comforts King and allows him to express his anger and depression without judgment.
“The Mountaintop’s” set appeared simple until a few hidden effects appeared. A powerful moment occurred when unexpected flowers bloomed from the carpet, and when a circular section of the stage spun slowly around.
However, the rain of feathers was not hidden as well as it could have been; before the pillow fight scene, small feathers accidentally dropped from their hold above the stage at random points, hinting at the later massive spill.
Towards the end of the performance, when King was allowed to see events which happened after his death, the realness of his character snuck into the reality of the world around him. A montage of video clips covered the walls of the room, and had scenes of both good and bad events. There were videos of the O.J. Simpson trial next to Michael Jackson performances; images of President Barack Obama next to sequences of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction.
All this flashed around King, standing in the middle of the stage, as the words “the baton passes on” repeated inside a monologue.
The play ended in this hectic fashion, but remaining on the hotel room’s screen, as the audience walked out of the theater, was an image of Tamir Rice.
“The Mountaintop” encouraged everyone who saw it to take action. It wasn’t a happy play, or one that made you feel comfortable.
It was a play that attempted to show the reality of the world around us, and to show us that oftentimes, that reality isn’t pretty.