.Just a Man: ‘The Mountaintop’ at 222

Healdsburg’s The 222 concludes its season of professional drama with The Mountaintop, co-directed by Aldo Billingsley and Rebecca Novick. Playwright Katori Hall’s imagining of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night on Earth runs through April 14.

It’s late in the evening of April 3, 1968, and Dr. King (Ron Chapman) has returned to room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s just delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon and is struggling to craft a speech in support of striking local sanitation workers.

After sending his friend, Ralph Abernathy, out for cigarettes, he calls down to the front desk in search of some coffee. A knock at the door heralds the arrival of motel maid Camae (Sam Jackson). Dr. King invites her in, and what starts as a casual conversation soon deepens into a discussion of the civil rights movement and the violence that seems to attach itself to peaceful protest.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Moments of self-reflection, doubt and even flirtation culminate in a pillow fight and physical exhaustion. A slip of the tongue brings Dr. King to the realization that Camae isn’t who she appears to be. Things then go in a very unexpected direction yet still end on the motel balcony floor.

Hall has said that she wanted to bring King off the pedestal he’s been placed upon and to view him as an ordinary man capable of extraordinary achievements as a way for other ordinary people to appreciate their own capabilities.

Playing an icon stripped of most everything that made them an icon must be doubly challenging for an actor. Chapman delivers on the playwright’s desire for “ordinariness” while delivering hints of the cadence of Dr. King’s voice.

The bombast is delivered by Jackson. But to reveal much about her character’s journey would rob the audience of their own discovery. Suffice it to say that Jackson absolutely glows in the role.

Previous productions at The 222 used minimal technical elements, but this show utilizes lighting, sound and projection designs. They will need to up their game in this department.

The Mountaintop was written in the time of the Obama presidency, when there was a sense that our country had reached a new level in dealing with the issues of race. The backsliding over the last 15 years and the coarsening of our national character casts a shadow over the play’s somewhat hopeful ending.

Hope has been replaced by fear.

‘The Mountaintop’ runs through April 14 at The 222 in The Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Friday & Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $45-$105. Students free with ID. 707.473.9152. the222.org.


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