Play by Katori Hall imagines Martin Luther King’s last night
L.A. Theatre Works’ national touring production takes MSUM stage
In 2018, America and the world mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., even as the struggle to resolve racial tension remains a challenge for communities everywhere. Beginning January 12, L.A. Theatre Works commemorates the anniversary with a touring production of the internationally acclaimed play, The Mountaintop, written by Katori Hall, directed by multiple award-winner Shirley Jo Finney and starring Gilbert Glenn Brown (CBS TV’s The Inspectors, upcoming feature film The Best of Enemies) and Karen Malina White (The Cosby Show, A Different World, Malcolm and Eddie). The production will travel to 38 cities across the United States, including MSUM.
The play comes to MSUM’s Hansen Theatre stage Thursday, Jan. 25, at 7:30 p.m. as the third event in the Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series. The show’s actors will lead a talk about the play immediately after the performance.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, only a few hours after his famed “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. In The Mountaintop, Hall fantasizes what may have transpired inside that room before the assassination. Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play, Hall’s gripping re-imagining of events is rife with humanity and humor as the celebrated Reverend reveals his hopes, regrets and fears to a seemingly inconsequential hotel maid.
“It was really important for me to show the human side of King,” said Hall. ”During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights — economic issues — and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable.”
The Mountaintop received its world premiere in London at Theatre 503 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The 2011 Broadway production starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.
L.A. Theatre Works’ national touring program brings audiences at venues across the country the experience of a “live-in-performance” radio drama. Since 2005, L.A. Theatre Works has visited over 300 civic, performing arts and university venues with productions ranging from Neil Simon’s Prisoner of Second Avenue to L.A. Theatre Works’ original docu-dramas The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial and Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers. In 2011, L.A. Theatre Works toured China with Top Secret, playing to sold out houses of Chinese professionals and students; in 2013 the production was invited back to perform at Beijng’s prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts as well as the Tianjin Grand Theater and major venues in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing and Fuling.
For three decades, L.A. Theatre Works has been the leading radio theater company in the United States, committed to using innovative technologies to preserve and promote significant works of dramatic literature and bringing live theater into the homes of millions. The company’s public radio series, featuring stage plays performed by America’s top actors augmented by interviews with the artists and others, can be heard on public radio stations across the U.S.; can be heard daily in China and around the world. More than 11,000 libraries carry LATW’s plays on audio, and recordings and teaching materials are used by over 3,000 middle and high schools across the country.
To purchase tickets to the performance at MSUM, go to www.mnstate.edu/perform or call the MSUM Box Office at (218) 477-2271 Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors and $12 for students with student ID. Tickets are also available at the door.
Read more about The Mountaintop in Monday’s InForum article, “Play explores human side of Martin Luther King Jr.”