LOGAN – The Lyric Repertory Company opened its 2021 summer season with a courageous, ambitious production of playwright Katori Hall’s dramatic masterpiece “The Mountaintop.”
At a time when most theater troupes are reviving tried and true classics to reassure their audiences that life is returning to normal, this LRC production throbs with relevance to America’s current troubled racial climate. Despite that tense undercurrent, the two-person tour de force earned a spontaneous standing ovation from a sizable opening night crowd in the Morgan Theatre on the Utah State University campus.
Hall’s drama focuses on a fictional encounter between the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a room service maid at the Lorraine Motel on the eve of King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968. King has just returned from delivering his historic “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” sermon, but the maid Camae meets an ordinary man with endearing foibles and flaws rather than a towering civil rights leader.
As the pair inevitably discuss the struggle for human dignity in their own era, uncomfortable echoes of our own troubles surface again and again. Midway through the one-act show, Hall’s script veers abruptly into more metaphysical territory about the nature of belief, love and hate.
“The Mountaintop” is perhaps inappropriately billed as a staged reading, because there is nothing static or unrehearsed about this production.
Kevin E. Thorne II is brilliant in the role of King, bringing the historic icon of the 1960s civil rights movement to life, warts and all. His performance ranges from comical as he fusses over petty annoyances to heartbreaking when the future martyr must confront his own mortality and failed dreams. The show ends with Throne delivering an electrifying appeal for humanity directly to the audience.
For her part, Sage Fortune is much more than mere comedy relief in the role of the mysterious Camae. Ms. Fortune is a vibrant counterpoint to Thorne as the flirty, foul-mouthed maid. Although that is merely a persona she adopts to hide her real mission in making King’s acquaintance, Ms. Fortune convincingly plays that part to the hilt until she finally drops her veil.
In our current charged climate of political correctness, “The Mountaintop” is strong stuff indeed.
The LRC program warns potential audience members that the play includes the use of racial slurs; blasphemy; taking the deity’s name in vain; unorthodox discussion of the nature of deity; strong language; and references to molestation, adultery, sex and rape.
Performances of “The Mountaintop” will continue at the USU Morgan Theatre on June 26 and July 1, 9 and 17.