This year has been all about Martin Luther King Jr. His monument was recently unveiled in Washington D.C. after many, many years of planning, design, and debate.
This May I traveled to Memphis for the first time and visited the Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum. I saw the room he stayed in, and the balcony where he received the shots that would end his life. I went into the building across the street and saw where his killer laid in wait with the perfect vantage point. I cried and grieved for a man I didn’t know but somehow missed anyway.
This October, Broadway has decided to tell the story of the man behind the legend. “The Mountaintop” is a fictitious tale contemplating what MLK Jr. would have been thinking, feeling, and doing the night before his assassination. That evening, April 3, 1968, he retreated to the Lorraine Motel (a common stay for him) after giving a speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, at Mason Temple, which provides the play with its title.
I have been excited to see this show since I read about it in its earliest stages. I crowned it the play of the year and I thought I would see it over and over again. It never, ever occurred to me that things would go a different way.
Since I had built my own excitement up to a frenzied height, I am still recovering from seeing this play. I feel like I am going through the stages of grief and am now up to anger having finally let go of my denial. Denial that the show I so desperately wanted to see could have gone so wrong. Many shows are disappointing but this stung the most because I had such high hopes. I should have known better than to count my chickens before they hatched.
Like I have said before and will continue to say again, there is nothing, nothing more disappointing in a play than seeing the potential that was wasted. Brand new ideas are refreshing as they are rare. So when stories are led astray from their goal I shake my head in disbelief. If only I had seen this show and been in on production. I always believe I could have helped. I also can’t believe how many other people, including investors, watched and gave the go ahead. It is like they attended a completely different show. When I am disappointed while watching a show I always look around the theater to see who is reacting and to what. Sorry to say more often than not the masses are hypnotized and I am the lone soul doing everything in my power not to shout out loud, are you kidding me with this?!!
To say there are plot twists, implies that they are simple like watching an episode of Law and Order when the killer is not who you thought. The twists here are more shocking, like if fireworks suddenly erupted in the theater. For a second, you wonder, did I fall asleep? Did I miss something? Did I take too much medication today? The answer, usually, will be no. No, this is the direction they have chosen to take this story. That is where they lost me. This is the part I am still reeling from. For those who haven’t seen it yet, I like all other reviewers, will not give away the surprise plot twist. But it has shaken me to my core.
Then there was the inappropriate over the top comedy. It was forced and didn’t belong in the show. It changed the whole feel of the play from a Broadway show to that of an SNL skit. It also went on for way too long. It was like the creators wanted to lighten the mood. But it didn’t need to be softened. We were there for a serious story. There was nothing funny about it, even when they tried.
As for the set, I had read so much about it. Apparently those working on this production were actually allowed behind the glass in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel so that they could accurately capture the colors, designs, and feel of the room. I am not really sure if it matched my recollection but it seemed convincing. But this too was hyped up too much.
As for the actors, I have saved the best for last. Samuel J. Jackson and Angela Bassett are amazing. If you think they are amazing on screen magnify that by ten and you will understand the power they give off in a small environment like a theater. Despite the fact that they were both playing characters almost half of their real age, it wasn’t noticeable. The only part I had been previously worried about prior to the show was being able to be convinced that Mr. Jackson was Dr. King. That was all for nothing I am happy to say. But this is also what breaks my heart. These two actors, plus their talent, should have equaled a show stopping production. The only other ingredient missing was, well everything else.
The actor’s generosity will also not go unnoticed or appreciated. The stage door was packed; naturally I was the first one online so I didn’t have any worries. But they were incredibly sweet and trying to get to everyone. They even attempted to pose for photos for the mob and began wiping the playbills dry once it began to rain. That blend of class and kindness is rare especially for such big celebrities. Those simple acts won them in my heart forever. And for someone who attends as many plays as I do, that was a genius move on their part.
No matter what, I have to say that I am glad I saw “The Mountaintop” because I would have not been able to trust other’s opinions with something I was obsessed with seeing. With reviews so tough I would have been stunned until I saw it with my own eyes.
I had a dream for Martin Luther King Jr. I had hoped his story, even elaborated, would be strong, intense, and reunite the world with his message.
Sadly, we still have a lot of work to do.
For the show I should have seen but didn’t know about:
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For those who insist on still seeing it:
For those who want to know the plot twist: email me at email@example.com