Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Thursday, 7 November 2013
The Mountaintop, Nov 6, 2013 ****
Hall, Melbourne Theatre Company Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre
Melbourne, Nov 6 to Dec 18, 2013 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 6 Stars: **** Review also published in Herald Sun online, Thurs Nov 7, 2013 and then in print. KH
The theatrical strength of The Mountaintop
lies in the performances by Bert LaBonté and Zahra Newman who create an
intensely emotional, intimate relationship between civil rights hero, Martin Luther
King Jr., and a fictional young woman, Camae.
The play takes place inside a motel room where
King (LaBonté) spends a wakeful night smoking, debating civil rights and
flirting with Camae (Newman), the feisty room service maid who turns out to be
more than he anticipated.
Katori Hall’s 90 minute two-hander, directed
Tsilimidos, is an entertaining, imagined version of
King’s last night on earth in the Lorraine Motel, Memphis on April 3, 1968, immediately
after his rousing speech about reaching the mountaintop and glimpsing the
Promised Land for his African-American people.
LaBonté is compelling and credible as the
fatigued, disillusioned King, giving him a lumbering physicality that contrasts
with his passion, wit and eloquence.
Hall creates an ingenious, fictional, comic-dramatic
narrative that portrays a side of King not witnessed by his adoring public; he
boozes, smokes, seduces and trembles with fear that his life will end with a
bomb or a bullet – as it does the next day.
Newman’s Camae is foul-mouthed, sassy and
Southern, sashaying lustily around King as she confronts him with arguments
that oppose his ideals of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance.
The first half is like a well observed
slice-of-life that balances articulate debate with whip-smart, witty dialogue
and amusing but sympathetic characters.
There is a bump in the script after the halfway
point when a surprising – some may say silly – plot revelation shifts the style
from the realistic to the fanciful and, for a short period, the ensuing
flippant, comical dialogue undercuts the earlier strength of the play.
However, Hall recaptures the drama of King’s
existential struggle in the latter part of the play with sensitive and poignant
scenes as King faces his own mortality.
Camae becomes a more rounded character as she guides
King through the night, challenging him and showing him that his dream of
equality for black Americans – so emotionally expressed in his famous “I have a
dream” speech – will come true in part.
In the final scenes, the fourth wall is broken
as LaBonté prowls amongst the audience, delivering a final stirring oration that
challenges the world of the future and is accompanied by a moving montage of
news footage depicting African-American achievements, including Obama’s
An American audience would probably weep and leap to their feet in
passionate reply to the stirring orations of their civil rights hero, but King
is not part of our political heritage so Australians may not be touched so
deeply by his reincarnation in The Mountaintop.
focuses the production on character and relationship and, with Hall’s spicy
dialogue and topical themes about human rights, this is a satisfying and
beautifully performed production.