“The Mountaintop”

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King gave one of his most famous speeches, in support of the sanitation workers in Memphis. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


Although it was as though he knew what was going to happen to him the next day, right now it is that night – a dark night — lighting and thunder crack the sky. In the moving play, “The Mountaintop,” at the Garry Marshall Theatre now through March 10, the audience finds itself in room 306, at the Lorraine Motel. Tonight, it is just another stopover motel for Dr. King. Tomorrow, it becomes the scene of one of our nation’s greatest losses.

Water stains pockmark the walls. Bright orange and fading brown 60s décor accent the room. The carpet is the color of bile. Dr. King, tired and hungry, wants cigarettes and coffee. But mostly he is weary.

Marilyn Stasio said in Variety, “Set in Memphis on the eve of his assassination, this soul-stirring drama finds King confiding his doubts, fears and morbid premonitions to a sassy motel maid [named Camae] — a deceptively trite situation that Hall transforms into an emotionally powerful and theatrically stunning moment of truth.”

CAROLYN RATTERAY (as Camae) and GILBERT GLENN BROWN (as Dr Martin Luther King Jr). Photo by Aaron Batzdorff
CAROLYN RATTERAY (as Camae) and GILBERT GLENN BROWN (as Dr Martin Luther King Jr). Photo by Aaron Batzdorff 

“This is no ordinary night. This night King walks into his own Garden of Gethsemane and falls on his knees to face his terror and despair, to confess his fears and doubts about his mission, and to pray for the strength to accept his martyrdom. But throughout King’s long night of existential darkness, one young playwright [author Katori Hall] has seen to it that he is not alone.”

Director Gregg T. Daniel, critically acclaimed for his recent productions of A Raisin in the Sun at A Noise Within and Her Portmanteau at Boston Court, said, “I daresay this is a Dr. King unlike any perception you might have had of him. I’m hoping the audience will see Dr King as “everyman.” He was indeed an ordinary man … who had profound doubts, insecurities and fears about the position he was thrust into – but he summoned enough grace and courage to make an extraordinary difference in our world . We all have the ability to be a catalyst for change in ourselves, our communities, and our nation.”

Soyica Diggs Colbert, Professor, Department of African American Studies and Theatre & Performance Studies at Georgetown University, said, “Hall’s work engages a tradition of black writing that reimagines historical figures in order to craft revisionary and recuperative narratives and to give voice to histories that may otherwise be forgotten.”

In her forward to the published version of “The Mountaintop,” Faedra Chatard Carpenter, University of Maryland Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies faculty, said, “The radical weapon that King champions in “The Mountaintop” is a love that is all-encompassing and therefore truly revolutionary – the love that emboldens him with the greatest promise, while demanding of him the greatest sacrifice.”

At one point in the play, Camae says to Dr. King, “You have the biggest heart I done ever knownt. You have the strength to love those who could never love you back. If I had just one small fraction of the love you have for this world, then maybe, just maybe, I could become half of what you are.”

Carolyn Ratteray, who plays Camae and who is most known to audiences for her recent performance in The Cake at Geffen Playhouse, said, “After sitting with this play, it becomes even more clear to me how love is the thread that connects us throughout time and space. When I read about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of that era, the love they had for black people and for all of humanity is awe inspiring; I am filled with a profound gratitude.”

“My character, Camae, must discover the healing power of love. Camae learns, by witnessing the imperfections of King, that there is hope for her to rise above her own imperfections.”

“God has taught Camae about Grace. And Camae must in turn give a grace to Dr. King by letting him know that even with his faults, he is still perfect in a way. [In the play,] she and Dr. King learn that they are still deserving of giving and receiving Love and Grace. Dr. King’s passionately held vision of our best selves and of who we can become, was born from his power to love. And that Love still speaks to me, across the dimensions of past, present, and future.”

CAROLYN RATTERAY (as Camae) and GILBERT GLENN BROWN (as Dr Martin Luther King Jr). Photo by Aaron Batzdorff
CAROLYN RATTERAY (as Camae) and GILBERT GLENN BROWN (as Dr Martin Luther King Jr). Photo by Aaron Batzdorff 

Garry Marshall Theatre co-artistic director Dimitri Toscas said, “The brilliance in Katori Hall’s language is her ability to capture, not only the humanity behind the legend, but the love that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had for the world at large. Somehow Hall’s language in “The Mountaintop” turns Dr. King’s love into a baton that is passed from one generation to the next, until it firmly lands in our own hand and we are called to pass that love to the next generation. Each of us becomes a point of light in this continuing history.”

In his speech Dr. King said, “Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. And so just as I said, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around. We aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.”

Gilbert Glenn Brown, who plays Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Dr. King has always been an inspiration for me … we all get tired, we all get weary, but the difference is some quit and some journey on. Some experience the slings and arrows and stop and some experience it, heal, regroup and push forward. Dr. King’s stance was always to continue forward, always forward, with love.”

“When others don’t see your vision the way you do, or your dream the way you see it, and even as your inner-circle may have their doubts, having that faith in what you’re here to share with the world is key –and so motivational for me.”

“The key to playing Dr. King was finding his humanity. Over the last 50 years we’re almost bombarded by an almost perfect form of Dr. King. He never saw himself as perfect, but as a man who had to stand up for right, for love, for compassion, for change. In order for the impact of his words and the pieces to ring true, I had to see him as a human being — a man, a son, a brother, a husband, a lover, and a father who used his tools and his skills to shine light and influence positive change for all.”

Playwright Katori Hall said, “You cut me, and I’ll probably bleed barbeque sauce. I am Memphis through and through: home of the blues, FedEx, Elvis Presley, Rendezvous Barbeque and hoodoo.” Her family had a personal moment with this historic moment: Katori’s mother, nicknamed Camae (the same as the character she wrote for the play), lived a block from the Lorraine Hotel and was 15 years old in 1968. Her grandmother, fearing violence, did not let her daughter attend the speech.

Hall’s award-winning play Hoodoo Love premiered at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2007. It was developed under Lynn Nottage as part of the theatre’s 2006 Mentor Project. Hoodoo Love received three AUDELCO nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, August Wilson Playwright Award). Her other plays include: Remembrance, Hurt Village, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, On The Chitlin’ Circuit, and Freedom Train (Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival ten minute play national finalist).

Her work has been developed and presented at the American Repertory Theatre, Kennedy Center, Cherry Lane Theatre, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Schomburg Center, BRICLab, Women’s Project, World Financial Center, Lark Play Development Center, New Professional Theatre, The O’Neill, The Juilliard School, Stanford University, and Columbia University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award; she has also been a Kennedy Center Playwriting Fellow.

2019 marks Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 90th birthday and the 36th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was signed into law and made a federal holiday in 1983, and was first observed in 1986. February is African American History Month.

“The Mountaintop” performs until March 10 at the Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. Tickets are now on sale by visiting garrymarshalltheatre.org or by calling 818-955-8101.

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