I just got home from seeing Pear Theatre’s production of The Mountain Top by Katori Hall. When I’d heard the controversy last year about a Kent University director that made the mind boggling decision to cast Martin Luther King Jr. with a white actor, my curiosity about the play was piqued. When I saw that a local theatre was putting it up, I knew it was a great opportunity to check it out for myself.
I’m not a theatre critic and this isn’t a review. I’m just trying to process what I saw and the wave of emotions I’ve been tossed around in since I left the theatre. Though I will say that Michael Wayne Rice and Nathalie Autumn Bennett were wonderful. The former in imbuing his Dr. King with a grounded humanness that allowed me to feel completely lost in eaves dropping on this great man’s last night. The latter absolutely devastating me (in the second half in particular) with a clever vulnerability I found completely beguiling. I’ll leave it to others to hash out the design, directing, script, etc.
For me, right now, the bottom line is ultimately that after I left the theatre and safely made it to my car, where I could be alone and relatively unobserved, I sobbed. Ugly crying, sobs. It took me a little while to understand that the emotion I was feeling, the thing that I’d been overwhelmed with, was anger. I was so angry. The kind of anger that’s bourn of heartache, disappointment, confusion, frustration.
As I watched the show, I kept thinking, how is it possible that we had this man in the world, that his legacy is far reaching and pervasive, and yet we still have any significant portion of our population embracing so much fear and racist dogma? With the lessons we already learned, how is it that nearly everyone, especially the media, aren’t recoiling in disgust and shame when they encounter it in their public figures. How? How can we be where we are? Again. Still.
When Camae (the maid) describes herself as “a poor black woman, the mule of the world” I felt my heart tear into shreds in my chest, not just from the actress’s delivery, which was very powerful, but from the devastating truth still underlying those words.
When Dr. King finally makes a sermon to the audience, I heard and felt the weight of hundreds of years worth of members of our society trying so desperately to get the rest of us to open our eyes and hearts and really understand their daily reality, to understand just how much of that is in our power to stop. And we just don’t. Plain and simple we chose to not stop it every single day – most effectively by not listening, by not believing, by refusing to accept reality. How does this not break one’s soul?
The last time I was reduced to unchecked tears after a show was Angels in America, which I saw while in the midst of losing so many people to AIDS. I watched in a charged state of recognition for the battle between despair and hope being played out on stage in front of me. It has stayed with me for decades.
I walk away from this experience tonight convinced that even if the only opportunity you have is to read the play, you should. If you have a chance to see it performed, go … see it performed.
If I could do anything differently tonight, I would have stuck around to wait for the cast to let them know how impacted and affected I was by what they did. Because, and this is part of what made the show so emotional to watch, theatre is made up of people in a room experiencing things together and the cast shouldn’t be excluded from the emotional dialog that something like this work demands.