This is how Portland Center Stage describes The Mountaintop:
April 4, 1968. Memphis. The Lorraine Motel. A time and place burned into the American psyche. But what about April 3? How did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spend his last night on Earth? Playwright Katori Hall creates a surrealistic fantasy in this breakout Broadway hit about a chance encounter between King and a mysterious hotel maid who brings him a cup of coffee and prompts him to confront his life, his legacy and the plight and future of his people.
The set is detailed, the design is top notch, and the acting is riveting; but there are three main reasons you should see this show:
- It reminds you that Martin Luther King Jr. was a real person and not just some teddy bear figure of American history. He struggled the under enormous pressure on his shoulders, felt guilt over his failures, was paranoid from constant surveillance by the FBI, and smoked cigarettes. He was against the war in Vietnam, fought for economic justice for people of all races, and supported labor unions. He is more complex than most people remember, and I realized afterwards I didn't know nearly as much about him as I should.
- The ending. It’s so good.
- Unlike a lot of shows (at PCS and otherwise) The Mountaintop is not just art for art's sake, it’s a story about a link in the chain of the fight for racial equality, and the work is not done yet. Hall uses the phrase, “the baton passes on,” several times to great effect to get this idea across. For me 1968 feels just as distant as 1868, part of that infinite stretch of history that happened before I was born. But 1968 is actually not that long ago, there are still lots of people alive who remember that time in history. In a sense the show is revolutionary, the audience sees that the struggle for equality is not over, the struggle for economic equality is not over, and the struggle to end war is not over. We are asked to take notice of the world and decide if we find it satisfactory. I walked out of the theater feeling energized, that change is possible, and that change is necessary.