Bay Area Theater Review: THE MOUNTAINTOP (TheatreWorks in Palo Alto)

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by Stacy Trevenon on March 4, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

INSPIRATIONAL, THOUGHTFUL, DARING

What if Dr. Martin Luther King was a down-to-earth, simple, vulnerable human being like the rest of us? What if human existence could be viewed from another dimension, one that allowed the viewer to weigh the pluses and minuses of the greater good versus personal choice, or the math of one human life versus the greater benefit? What if Dr. King had foreseen his untimely death and the fall of dominoes in the greater human fabric that his sliver of time would affect? What if perceptions we take for granted about our existence, cause and effect, even the nature of God, were reshuffled?

Stacy Trevenon's review of TheatreWorks' THE MOUNTAINTOP in Palo Alto

These and similar imponderables are fearlessly tackled by playwright Katori Hall in her gripping and thoughtful The Mountaintop, a fictional creation of the last evening of King’s life. In an engrossing script that careens through unexpected twists and turns, Hall leads the viewer through what is at once believable and indeterminable, historical fact and fiction, and wholly plausible. On a rainy night in 1968 punctuated by thunderclaps, King is relaxing in his Memphis hotel room pondering the future of an unstable America when he finds he is out of cigarettes. He rings for room service and a hotel maid appears. She is awed by being in King’s presence as well as spirited and pretty, facts not lost on but not taken advantage of by King. Plausible, if laden with ominous portents.

Stacy Trevenon's review of TheatreWorks' THE MOUNTAINTOP in Palo Alto

But then Hall’s script turns into a rollercoaster of unexpected possibilities which is delightful to watch, King, well defined in sensitive yet powerful acting by Adrian Roberts, is seen as a man instead of a legend, fraught with failings, graced with dignity and integrity, troubled by doubts and fears.

Stacy Trevenon's review of TheatreWorks' THE MOUNTAINTOP in Palo Alto

There is electricity between him and the maid Camae who, in a heartbreakingly powerhouse performance by Simone Missick, is just as human and vulnerable but not at all what she seems. Tables are turned in a way that made me, as a viewer, appreciate not just King as a man with a mission – one that he may not have chosen but from which he does not shirk – but also the natures of chance and choice and societal forces that are unacceptable and other forces that are beyond worldly and beyond our earthly comprehension. In the end, the play had me wrapped up by the suspense of watching a true story unfolding amid the awesomeness of possibilities for us all.

Stacy Trevenon's review of TheatreWorks' THE MOUNTAINTOP in Palo Alto

photos by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin

The Mountaintop
TheatreWorks at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto
ends on April 7, 2013
for tickets, call (650) 463-1960 or visit TheatreWorks

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