I have been to “The Mountaintop” and it was delightful
Cadence Theater operates in an intimate space. When used correctly, you feel as if you are living in the world of the play right along with the actors. You can see their eyes, you can feel the sensations they feel. You cannot hide in an intimate space. If the play or the actors or the staging feels false the audience will immediately know.
Happily, there is nothing false about Cadence’s presentation of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, easily one of the most accomplished productions of the season.
The play deals with The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth. Set in the very motel room in Memphis, TN, adjoining the balcony where he was eventually assassinated, the play fictionalizes a scenario where Dr. King spends that last evening in the company of one of the motel’s maids. We wrongly think there may be some hanky panky afoot but what this conceit actually does is to allow Reverend King to relax, socialize and put into perspective his life’s work from the viewpoint of a common but sassy and vulgar plainspoken woman.
The play is unique from the typical historical biography in that it’s not that at all. This play gives us a human being named Martin Luther King Jr., a man who was no saint. Tired, over-worked, anxious, burdened, suspicious, panicky, overtly sexual, loving and needy: in other words, a man.
The woman, named Camae, sashays her way into the apartment and busying herself with whatever she can find, hangs around for quite a spell. They talk. They argue. They frolic. The play itself has a surprising twist which elevates this woman to a larger than life status. It is obvious that her dramatic purpose for whatever reason is to prepare King for the end of his life.
This twist in the script turns the tables completely. Just when you think you know what the play’s world is, it becomes something else. The playwright is entirely justified in bringing the piece where she wants it to go in just the way she wants it to go, but pondering her method, you can imagine the play concluding in a number of different ways, some of which might would make the skit tighter and shorter. As it was, I felt the play exceed its perfect length by about ten minutes.
Despite this pickiness, the writing is superb. The playwright clues us into the “otherness” of this meeting by having it take place during a violent rainstorm. The sound and lighting designer creates an amazing storm atmosphere which lasts the entire length of the play. The massive thunderclaps, sounding to Dr. King like the gunshots that will eventually take his life, seem as if they are coming directly at him by God herself.
An extraordinary script deserves a quality production and Cadence delivers. Jerold E. Solomon and Katrinah Carol Lewis are simply wonderful. They are honest, engaged, creatively daring and intensely interesting, giving all of their marvelous gifts in service to the play, vocally, physically, and emotionally. There is not a false note to be found. It’s beautiful to watch.
The actors have the privilege of superior direction. It’s hard to explain just what a director does but you can think of it in terms of an architect or builder. Theatre being a collaborative art, the director carefully melds all of the disparate parts to create a meaningful whole. She must have a vision. She co-creates performances. She decides what elements work and do not work. She parents the production. She is the decider. She is the critic before the critic shows up. All of which is to say that Laine Satterfield masters of all these tasks and then some. An accomplished actress in her own right, you can feel the love she has for these characters and players. She has created, with her crew, an environment which allows her actors to move and react within the space naturally, purposefully and without pretense. There is not one static moment. I’m not saying the performance was perfect. My experience is that there’s always something that’s going to happen that’s never happened before. It’s how you deal with it that counts.
Ms. Satterfield is assisted by gifted technicians.
Rich Mason has done double duty creating a great set and a complicated lighting design. Jesse Senechal composed a haunting sound design. From the aforementioned storm to the flushing of the toilet to the cheesy curtains hanging on the windows, we recognize what we see and hear as honest and true. I did separate from the play on several occasions due to the volume of the storm that was still raging. No biggie.
Sarah Grady has clothed the players in realistic garb that looks natural and lived in. Sharon Gregory once again proves that she has tight control managing the live production and all of its elements. A stage manager is like a juggler and Ms. Gregory keeps all of the balls in the air with ease.
Some plays are fun, some plays are serious, some plays are thematically important. Cadence’s production of The Mountaintop is all three. It is a must see for anyone who loves theatre.
The Mountaintop runs at Cadence Theatre through March 12, you can scoop tickets here!
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