‘The Mountaintop’ at CENTERSTAGE by Amanda Gunther

The final moments of a man’s life can be profound and deep, especially when they are the final moments of one man who touched humanity in a deeply profound way, leaving his legacy to change the nation. Such moments are revealed in astonishing lights as CENTERSTAGE presents Katori Hall’s sensitive new play The Mountaintop.

Shawn Hamilton( Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Photo by Richard Anderson.
Shawn Hamilton( Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Photo by Richard Anderson.

A moving poignant cultural revolution takes to the stage in this cutting edge work that highlights the final moments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the night before his assassination. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, this play is a gripping roller coaster of heightened emotions, rich comedy, and thought-provoking moments of life and its meaning, the pursuit of justice, truth, and righteousness all melded into one impressive dream of a show.

Scenic Designer Neil Patel crafts the feeling of a 1968 motel room in Memphis with simplistic ease. The retro feel resonates strongly in the color of the walls and the quaint minimalist furniture. Lighting Designer Scott Zielinski accentuates the feeling of the rundown atmosphere with his naturalistic lighting of the interior. Keeping the room in dull low lights with a table lamp and a desk lamp authenticates the setting by allowing the actor to remain in darkness until he is ready to let in the light. Together these designers allow the actors to be the focus of the production while still inviting the audience into the timescape of the play.

The play builds momentum with a strong feel of raw power. It turns the tide and brings new meaning to plot twists and explosive endings. Hall’s writing it witty, edgy and heartwarming as well as thought provoking. It’s ripe with satire; well-balanced against the harsh reality of the over arching topic and movement of the piece. Director Kwame Kwei-Armah evokes deep emotions from his actors in this production, utilizing a vast knowledge of Dr. King’s historical figure as well as the political climate of the time.

Playing the iconic Dr. King is Shawn Hamilton. With a vocal prowess that emulates so many of the recordings played throughout history, Hamilton portrays the legendary civil rights activist with due respect and justice, revealing him to be every bit the martyr and hero that the world believed him to be, as well as the honest simple man that the world never saw. Hamilton is extremely realistic in every action played. From talking on the phone during various conversations, properly pacing pauses to ensure the audience that there really is someone talking to him on the end to practicing his sermons aloud, he crafts an organic sense of naturalism to the character.

Hamilton shows Dr. King at his lowest and most vulnerably exposed points in the sudden plot twists that erupt midway through the performance; above all maintaining the reality that before anything else he is simply a human male, flawed and imperfect like everyone else. This genuine portrayal give the play a profundity that shocks the audience to the core.

Playing opposite Dr. King is the motel’s maid Camae (Myxolydia Tyler). A bubbly loquacious perky character with a zesty edge to her exterior, Tyler plays to perfection against Hamilton in this production. In touch with her character’s deep religious and controversial sinning roots, Tyler portrays a lively vibrant woman with a headstrong sense of empowerment that is riveting and captures the audience’s attention. Her facial expressions express her star-struck awe of preacher King while tempering it with a humbled appreciation of his work and devotion to his cause and his god.

Together Hamilton and Tyler make an explosive team; their flirtations are sharp and poignant laced with zingers in true repartee fashion that make their interactions that much more invigorating. And when the tables turn after the major plot twist, Tyler balances out the emotional exasperation of Hamilton with her calm and collected sense of existence. When Hamilton is faced with the ultimate crisis he plows through the stages of grief with vehemence; erupting with denial, vocally blazing with the fury of his anger, bargaining with desperation in his pleas, delving deep into his body’s movements to actualize his depression and finally humbly and gently accepting his fate.

Shawn Hamilton (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Myxolydia Tyler (Camae). Photo by Richard Anderson.
Shawn Hamilton (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Myxolydia Tyler (Camae). Photo by Richard Anderson.

The Mountaintop has two phenomenal performances and is an amazing moving drama.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Mountaintop plays through February 24, 2013 at CENTERSTAGE – 700 North Calvert Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 332-003, or purchase them online.


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