The Mountaintop Review – The End is the Beginning

Amanda Warren and Jon Michael Hill in THE MOUNTAINTOP - Photo by Isaak Berliner
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Katori Hall, the author of THE MOUNTAINTOP, was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Clearly, she has poignant memories of her hometown – the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. In fact, her mother, a youngster at the time, planned to attend Dr. Martin Luther King’s famed – and last – speech on April 3, 1968, but was not permitted to go because her mother (Hall’s grandmother) felt that it was too dangerous because the Masonic Temple might be firebombed. When Hall penned THE MOUNTAINTOP, it may be that she was giving her mother one more opportunity to meet MLK through the other play character, Camae, her name a word play on Hall’s mother’s name (Carrie Mae). THE MOUNTAINTOP premiered in London in 2009 to rave reviews, and Hall was the first Black woman in the world to win the coveted Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. THE MOUNTAINTOP made its Broadway premiere in 2011, with Samuel L. Jackson in his Broadway debut as Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) and Angela Bassett as Camae. In 2023, the Geffen Playhouse proudly presents THE MOUNTAINTOP.

Jon Michael Hill and Amanda Warren – Photo by Isaak Berliner

The place is the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee; and the time is the evening of April 3, 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King has just returned from delivering his powerful speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop:”

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.” Even though he was affirming his support for the striking Memphis Sanitation workers –  who were being denied their civil rights and common job safety precautions – his words were especially striking in light of his assassination the following day.

Amanda Warren and Jon Michael Hill – Photo by Isaak Berliner

Dr. Martin Luther King (Jon Michael Hill) is staying in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, one of the few places in Memphis where Blacks were accepted. Outside the quiet shadowed room, a storm is raging. King is contemplating his life and his goals – all the while longing for coffee and a cigarette – never realizing that the next day would be his last. When the beautiful and mysterious motel maid (Amanda Warren) enters his room, flirty, humorous interchanges follow – but soon the talk gives way to deeper and deeper considerations as King expresses his fears, especially about who will take the baton and carry on the fight if something happens to him. Just who is this woman called Camae? And what are her real intentions in coming to King’s room? Why has she entered King’s life at this very moment? In a fascinating “what if,” Hall weaves an intriguing fictional tale which will keep the audience gripping their seats.

Amanda Warren and Jon Michael Hill – Photo by Isaak Berliner

Skillfully helmed by director Patricia McGregor, THE MOUNTAINTOP builds up tension step by incremental step as the pair dance around each other with quirky humor which may be leading to something startling and unforeseen. Kudos to talented actors Hill and Warren, who give what may be the performances of their careers as the two individuals who were fated to meet and share this moment. The production team has also done a bang-up job of making the setting near perfect, including scenic design (Rachel Myers), costume design (Mylette Nora), lighting (Lap Chi Chu), sound (Cricket S. Myers), and projection design (Yee Eun Nam). THE MOUNTAINTOP is highly recommended as yet another excellent Geffen production.

Amanda Warren and Jon Michael Hill – Photo by Isaak Berliner

THE MOUNTAINTOP runs through July 9, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Gil Cates Theater is located at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public one hour before show time at the box officer for $35 ($15 students). For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online.

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