Katori Hall's new play Mountaintop, winner of the Laurence Olivier Award for its London run, burst upon Broadway in its October 13th opening. This is playwright Hall's Broadway debut along with veteran film actor, Samuel L. Jackson's. It's directed by Kenny Leon who also directed Denzel Washington and Viola Davis to Tony winning performances last season in the revival of August Wilson's Fences.
Jackson plays the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in full makeup his visage bears a startling resemblance to Dr. King's. Of course in stature, Jackson is much taller. In real life, both King and Jackson share the same alma mater, the prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta.
It's a two-person play with Jackson's King meeting up with Angela Bassett as the coffee-serving motel maid on the last night of his life. Let's just say this maid is no ordinary maid. She curses and instead of making the bed, she's jumping up and down on it. We find out she's an honorary Black Panther who's sick and tired of King's nonviolent ways.
The 90-minute show, with no intermissions, runs at a fast clip. Without spoiling the plot, let's just say it's not about what you think it's going to be about. All right, here's just one clue. Besides being no ordinary maid, she's also a chameleon.
It's a volcanic Mountaintop, seductively explosive, with a pillow fight where the pillows aren't thrown but swung as battering rams, and at least one chair almost lands offstage. This is not a play for the faint-hearted, but it is a celebration of life, love, and country.
As the playwright Katori Hall said to me in an interview a week before the show opened, "The circle rises together." So, in the context of this show, to me that means, it's up to us as a nation whether we pull together or fall apart.
With bolts of lightning to seemingly emphasize that point and which seem to emanate from above the heads of those in the orchestra seats, it is eerily reminiscent of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene from not so long ago. Sheets of rain pouring down can be seen through the motel room window. The storm is done so well, it almost steals the show. But not quite. Jackson and Bassett sizzle.
There are several references to Chicago's Rev. Jesse Jackson in the play. Jackson is said to have been "baptized" in King's blood and one of those to whom King "passed the baton."
In a limited 16-week engagement at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on West 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave. It's a show you'll be talking about and debating long after it's run ends.