‘The Mountaintop’ an interesting trip, with a confusing view

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Brittany Bellizeare and Charlie Hudson III star in 'The Mountaintop' at Northern Stage. Photo by Jason Merwin.

Brittany Bellizeare and Charlie Hudson III star in ‘The Mountaintop’ at Northern Stage. Photos by Jason Merwin.

White River Junction’s Northern Stage continues its season with Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, a fictionalized account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final day, that begins as a realistic drama then veers into the otherworldly. And while the idea is an interesting one, the execution borders on the schizophrenic.

We meet King (nicely played by Charlie Hudson III) on the night of April 3, 1968 where he has checked into the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., after delivering one of his famous speeches at the Mason Temple. King is exhausted, hoarse and a bit frightened by the thunderstorm outside his room.

As he waits for Ralph Abernathy to show up with some cigarettes, we quickly learn that King drinks booze, has smelly feet, urinates and is unfaithful to his wife. This is King the man — not King the martyr — and we are lulled into the belief that we will be experiencing a behind-the-scenes look at this historic figure.


Performers were given a well-deserved standing ovation.

But playwright Katori Hall has other things in mind: She introduces attractive, sassy hotel worker Camae (Brittany Bellizeare in a star turn) who brings King coffee, fawns on him, teases him and laughingly tries to seduce him before revealing (spoiler) that she is an emissary from God and that she has come to Earth to prepare King for his final moments.

The premise is interesting and the play is noble — showing the power of love and the consequences of hate — and especially needed in our current climate of rising fear and racial tension. But it is a tough premise to pull off. Camae’s revelation comes out of left field, and while the play thrashes about from drama to comedy to poetic speeches, director Carol Dunne struggles to find a tone that might unify the disparate pieces. The beginning is sluggish — almost soporific — before it careens through light banter to tearful tirades to a pillow fight to a telephone call with God. The result seems hodge-podge and incomplete.


As always at Northern Stage, production values are high.

And while the actors received a well-deserved standing ovation for their work, you can’t help but leave the theater wondering what is was all meant to be. “The Mountaintop” received the 2010 Olivier Award for Best Play, but this production feels like a one-act that has been stretched and tricked out and, sadly, it sheds very little light on its protagonist, Martin Luther King Jr.

As one has come to expect of Northern Stage, production values are high. Set and Projection Designer Caite Hevner Kemp serves up some stunning visuals at the play’s climax; Costume Designer Shawn Sturdevant has kept things direct and simple; and Lighting Designer Travis McHale sets some effective moods

“The Mountaintop” continues through Saturday, April 9 at Northern Stage, The Barrette Center for the Arts, 74 Gates St., White River Junction. Performances: Tuesday through Sunday; matinees on Wednesday-Thursday and also on Saturday, April 9.The play is 90 minutes and is performed without intermission. For tickets and information, call 802-291-9009 or click here.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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