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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Mountaintop
TheaterWorks

Also see Fred's review of Abundance


Jamil A.C. Mangan and Courtney Thomas
The Mountaintop, continuing at Hartford's TheaterWorks through May 5th, clicks early on and maintains its spirited hold throughout hte 95-minute performance. Starring Jamil A.C. Mangan as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Courtney Thomas as Camae, the show finds a turbulent King in his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 3, 1968. A day later, he will be assassinated.

Playwright Katori Hall uses a theater device (not to be divulged here) through Camae's persona to advantage. Designer Amy Clark costumes Hall (ostensibly a maid) in glaring yellow. She is more than friendly as she shares Pall Mall cigarettes with King, flirts with him, and nearly sidles up to him. Thomas' Camae is forward and sexy. King, occasionally on the telephone with his wife, is anything but reverent. Camae's diction is filled with expletives and, while she apologizes, King neither cares nor minds the offensive language.

Evan Adamson's depiction of room #306 is staggering as it replicates, in every way, the space. He was part of the design team which traveled to Memphis in preparation for the Broadway production of The Mountaintop a couple of years ago. As he fashioned the room for TheaterWorks, Adamson was intent on recreating each scuff mark and specific color tones of drapes and bedspread to correctly realize the past.

Rob Ruggiero, known as a director who is able to effectively tell stories, understands that the events Hall created are fictions. King, though, is real—and this is his last living night. When the play begins, he uses the bathroom and washes up—all so human. This is normal while King's legend and legacy continue to grow.

The plot, theme, and essence of The Mountaintop begin to turn. Dr. King realizes there is probably more to Camae than anticipated. She has visions of the future and she understands King's destiny. To explicate further would be to ruin the experience for anyone planning to attend a performance.

The performers could not be more impressive. Mangan inhabits King. He humanizes the man. The brilliant orator was also a person with flaws and idiosyncrasies, like the rest of us. His breathing difficulty seems like an asthma attack. He has an eye for women. He is not totally secure unto himself. Camae likes King and she speaks about civil rights and its promise. She is not in awe of King, and Thomas' performance is ever-affecting.

Hall's characters are involved and agitated. Her play, within Ruggiero's capable hands, is an immediate attention-getter. She paints a Martin Luther King who likes to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. Camae has a mission and, while empathetic, must stay true to that calling.

TheaterWorks' thrust performance space makes for a perfect setting. The motel room and the stage become one. King is fatigued and so, too, is the room. He understands, after some time, that Camae is far more complex than first assumed. Mangan's genuine emotions, as the plot is revealed, cannot be denied. Eventually, inspirational rear projections from the era of civil rights speak of past, present and future.

TheaterWorks' gallery, upstairs from the theater, houses an impressive display, including set plans and a video pertaining to designer Adamson's time in Memphis. He brings immediacy of that fateful, rain-driven night to the current production. The actors and their director make it real.

The Mountaintop continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through May 5th. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.


Photo: Lanny Nagler


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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