There are few American heroes more greatly revered than Martin Luther King, Jr., His non-violent crusade for the rights of his people earned him legendary status as an orator and an example of empathy and forgiveness of which to aspire.
But we often forget that the leaders who we elevate to mythical status were people just like us, with their own hidden quirks, habits and failings.
GableStage painted a far more intimate, complex portrait of the celebrated minister in their gripping production of “The Mountaintop.”
“The Mountaintop” was written by Katori Hall and opened in London in 2009, where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Play.
It premiered on Broadway in 2011, with Samuel L. Jackson making his Broadway debut in the lead role of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The show depicts the last night of the civil rights icon’s life in a suite at the Lorraine Motel, where he has an enlightening and challenging discussion with a maid who is more than she seems. GableStage’s production crackled with intensity from start to finish; an impressive achievement for a two person show performed in a single act.
Although the script itself is sometimes a bit heavy-handed in its delivery of the show’s core themes, the show’s performers made the material look top-notch.
C. Anthony Jackson was a first-class embodiment of Martin Luther King, Jr., from his speaking patterns to his physical appearance.
He accomplished the formidable task of humanizing the larger-than-life figure, bringing unexpected elements of playfulness and vulnerability to the role, while still endowing his more grandiose speeches with the appropriate sense of gravitas.
Any actress playing against a character as powerful as Martin Luther King, Jr., runs the risk of being overshadowed, but Karen Stephens was more than up to the challenge.
In her role as Camae, a motel maid who has more depth and mystery to her than she first appears, Stephens practically radiated dynamism and electrifying spirit.
She commanded the stage with her magnetic presence, most notably while giving her own rendition of an imagined speech by the Reverend.
The chemistry between Jackson and Stephen was nothing short of exhilarating, constantly turning on a dime from one extreme of emotion to another.
“The Mountaintop’s” technical elements were up to GablesStage’s usual standard of quality.
The motel room set was incredibly detailed, and subtle shifts in lighting were effectively utilized during the production to underline significant moments.
The most impressive isolated element, however, was the simulated rain and snow visible through the motel window, which added that extra touch of realism that distinguishes good productions from great ones.
One of the most affecting moments of the production comes near the play’s denouement, when Martin Luther King, Jr., completely drops his facade and confesses that he only ever wanted to be a simple minister, but was called against his will to the highest mountaintop.
It’s an admission of self-doubt and regret which we, as a society, rarely allow our heroes to display.
But, if anything, this humanity only makes his leadership even more inspiring.
GableStage’s production of “The Mountaintop” is a funny, touching portrayal of an ordinary man who became extraordinary, and a poignant reminder for the audience of the power of the human spirit to overcome.
Where: GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, through April 13
Cost: Tickets range from $15 to $55.
For more information, call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org.