Stellar show

by Leigh-Ann Worrell

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pillow fight.
Pillow fight.

Just the mere utterance of the name provokes images of fearless strength, unwavering passion and dedication to civil liberty.

But for the privileged sitting on The Mountaintop last evening, a darker side to the activist’s life was revealed with gripping intensity.

It has already been revealed by close friends that the late leader had a weakness for women, but the intimate audience at the Frank Collymore Hall became privy to the Pall Mall-smoking, angry, frustrated, slightly vain man who lay inside.

Set designer Peter Lewis did a great job with a simple set for the two-man play: twin beds, a side table, a reading desks and a few well-placed lamps. In this bare-bones, unluxurious space, the audience was introduced to, understood and empathised with King in the last hours of his life. The serious demeanour of King (played by Richard Pepple) was offset by making him into a relatable human being.

As he ponders his “Why America is Going to Hell” speech, he goes to the bathroom. He paces Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel with travel-worn holes in his socks. His feet, by his own admission, smell. He drinks coffee, even though he should not have. He even lets a few curse words out.

Maybe it’s Carrie Mae, or “Camae” as she is affectionately called, (played by Keshia Pope) who teased the darker side of the civil rights leader. She provided both comedic relief and complexity to her job as a maid and, as was revealed at the end of the first act, divine being. Martin Luther King Jr. and Camae share cigarettes, a spirited pillow fight, undeniable chemistry and a penchant for dark humour in a way that engages the audience, drawing it in to the unusual method playwright Katori Hall has chosen to tell MLK’s story.

Well-placed flashes of light foreshadows the dismay which is soon to come. After Camae revealed her true nature, King goes through the phases of persons going through the sunset of their life: fear, denial, supplication for “more time” before final acceptance. The final monologue was one of the most stirring acting of the night. With tears streaming from his face, Peeples conveys the anguish of a great man – with lots more work to do, who is moments from meeting his Maker.

This could have easily been a trip to the heights of MLK’s greatness and struggles – but the twist was memorably different. But the despite the strength of Hall’s writing skills, the actors are crucial to bringing the lines to life – and that they did.

Peeple’s embodiment of King through speech intonation, posture and even his singing voice was near flawless. It was hard to believe that Peeple is originally from London and not Atlanta, Georgia.

Pope’s attempt at a southern drawl was also commendable and it was clear it would only improve as the season progressed. Generally, her acting skills were able to conceal the minor accent issue.

The view from The Mountaintop is truly picturesque, and is another stellar showing by Gale Theatre of Barbados and London.

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