54 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis, TN to speak and walk with sanitation workers there. Dr. King felt uneasy upon arrival and made the decision to skip the speech he was to give at Mason Temple, sending his friend the Reverend Ralph Abernathy instead.
Upon arriving and seeing the large crowd which was tense and expecting to see Dr. King speak, Abernathy implored him to come and he did just that. King ended up speaking for 40 minutes, feeding off the crowd and delivering his final speech, now known as Mountaintop. It is back in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel that evening that Katori Hall’s masterful scenario begins.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prepares for bed for the night but hopes for one of his favorite vices – a cigarette. As he awaits Abernathy’s return with a pack from Pall Malls, the storm grows and brings a beautiful maid to his room. This stranger’s company cultivates space for a rarely portrayed restless Dr. King as he learns it’s his last night on earth and meeting this stranger was no mere coincidence.
An Olivier Award-winning play, The Mountaintop, was written by playwright Katori Hall. Originally from Memphis, she grew up with the story of Dr. King all around her. The inspiration for the story came from her mother’s experience when she was 15 years old. She was looking forward to walking with the civil rights activist himself and planned to see King at Mason Temple on April 3 but, for fear of violence, she did not attend. Hall says it was one of her mother’s biggest regrets as King’s death was the next day. “I wanted to put them both in the same room,” Hall said in a 2011 NPR interview, “and give my mom that opportunity that she didn’t have in 1968.” Named after her mother, the mysterious maid Camae joins King on his last night where we see a living human representation of Martin, as a whole. ‘A wart and all’ looking at Dr King may not be what clients are used to seeing, but Hall felt ‘in portraying him with his flaws and weaknesses, we too can see – as human beings who have these faults – that we, too, can be kings; we, too, can carry the staff that he has passed on to us.”
The play is a beautiful story of the historical and irreverent figure of King who blends the past with current events. The show’s focus on how far we’ve come as a society and how far we still have to go goes hand-in-hand with the theater’s own initiatives in its first season since the pandemic began in 2020. “We took the time to reflect on what was going really well for us, but also correct the things we were missing,” said production art director James Kuhl Their journey began with a new mission, core values and the implementation of an anti-racism statement and policies. The theater focuses on increasing diversity seen at all levels of the organization. This fact is particularly highlighted with The Mountaintop being their first show by a black playwright on the main stage who also features their first all-black cast.With the hiring of new staff members, the creation of new systems and values for the organization as a whole and the desire to move forward by producing works of art that explicitly encompass every human experience, The Mountaintop helps to blaze a new conscious road in the Northville theater history.
The Mountaintop runs from May 19 to June 18 in downtown Northville. Conveniently located near the bustling downtown area, guests can take advantage of public parking and plenty of local dining and shopping before or after the show. Tickets are on sale now through their box office at 248-347-0003 or online at www.TippingPointTheatre.com. Discounts include $2 off for seniors and military with students 26 or younger able to purchase tickets for just $10. Groups of 15 or more benefit from a $3 discount that can be combined with the senior rate for a total discount of $5. Their current Covid-19 policies require properly fitted masks to be worn at all times in their intimate space for the safety of performers on stage.