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Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in "The Mountaintop" at Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre
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Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in "The Mountaintop" at Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre

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Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett

The Mountaintop
(The Mountaintop Website)

By Katori Hall
Directed by Kenny Leon

Bernard R. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street

Original Music: Branford Marsalis
Set & Projection Design: David Gallo
Costume Design: Constanza Romero
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Hair & Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Production Stage Manager: Jimmie Lee Smith
Press: O&M Co.
Advertising: SPOTCO
Assoc. Producer: Patrick Daly
Company Manager: Brig Berney
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 15, 2011

Seeing Katori Hall’s new production about Martin Luther King, Jr., on his last night, at the Lorraine Motel, Room 306, on April 3, 1968, left me yearning for another quickly created play, on the exact same scenario, by a different playwright, with a different take on that momentous night, so pregnant with danger. Throughout this intermission-less play, I was squirming in my seat, so uncomfortable and disappointed in the nature and shrillness of the disconnected dialogue. Dr. King was a classy, cultured, brilliant man. I remember his speeches and demeanor. I remember that night. Ms. Hall’s The Mountaintop not only did not do those memories justice, it was actually distasteful and dingy, as dingy as the bedspread and décor of the seedy Lorraine Motel.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Dr. King, and Angela Bassett plays Camae, a maid at the Lorraine, who brings coffee and shares cigarettes and time with Dr. King. From this starting point, Ms. Hall had a blank slate, brimming with possibilities. But, instead, Kenny Leon has directed Ms. Bassett to shriek and giggle ad nauseam, while Mr. Jackson mumbles, often in low, inaudible tones. When he does practice his speeches, talk to his wife, Coretta, by phone, or wax philosophical, he can be compelling. But in the endless, streaming repartee with Ms. Bassett, not to mention a pillow fight and quasi frolicking in bed, Dr. King was seen as less than a man with vulnerabilities and neediness. His classiness was cheapened. This is not to disbelieve that he was capable of seducing or being seduced by a chambermaid, but had he been staged to share his room with a smooth, sultry, sexy lady, all against Branford Marsalis’ smooth, sultry, sexy original music, Ms. Hall would have had my full attention. Dr. King was known as a man of passion and appetite. Ms. Bassett’s character lacked any level of attraction, let alone allure.

Moreover, Dr. King’s magnificent oratorical skills could have served as shared backdrop with Mr. Marsalis’ music, with projections, videos, and sound clips. A major moral and educational opportunity was missed, especially in today’s bitter socio-political climate, with horrendous media bites of legislators espousing race bating. Dr. King was a true American hero. In The Mountaintop, he was portrayed as a nervous chain-smoker, who will grab whatever walks through the door, even the shrill, hyper, cartoonish Camae. Ms. Hall has Dr. King and Camae immersed in conversations of deep dilemmas, but just as the audience is about to tune in, the spell is broken. Ms. Bassett was misdirected and miscast. She was not even tall enough to match Mr. Jackson’s powerful physicality. David Gallo’s motel room set was suitable to 60’s Memphis, and Constanza Romero’s costumes were equally suitable to the moment. However, I’m still fantasizing about that tall sultry woman that might have been Dr. King’s magnetic match. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting adds dark ominous layers to the stormy spring night, and Dan Moses Schreier’s sound was even too fine, considering Ms. Bassett’s senseless stridency. Kudos to Dr. King. He deserves better next time.

Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett
in Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Samuel L. Jackson in Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at