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Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop”

at The Matrix Theatre

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Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop won the 2010 British Olivier Award for Best New Play.

In 2011 it opened in New York with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

And on February 6, 2016 it opened at the Matrix Theatre Company and at the closing of that first performance in Los Angeles, received a standing ovation from most of the audience attending.

Most.

Not all.

Not me.

Seeking to weave itself into Black History Month, producer Joseph Stern and director Roger Guenveur Smith have chosen a pertinent work centered on a seemingly gripping concept: the last night of Martin Luther King’s life.

Or is it?

Hall has taken that evening in history, reassessed it through Sartre’s No Exit then wrapped it in the trappings of a Twilight Zone episode.

The premise is delivered with all the subtly of a lap dance from a drunken hippo with father issues, and possesses the depth and originality of a “knock-knock” joke.

Larry Bates as Dr. King and Danielle Truitt as Camae, the heavenly room service maid, struggle to keep their heads above the billowing pretentiousness washing over the Matrix’s stage, but after the first hour I found myself wishing to shove them beneath the waves of banality just to get it over with.

The two best moments of the piece arrive at the very end.

The first is a vision of the future bestowed on Dr. King, part rap, part Book of Revelations:

“Berlin walls
Apartheid falls
Robber Island sets Mandela free
Rodney King screams:
Can’t we all get along?”

The success of this moment is due in no small part to a nicely composed montage of images by Marc Anthony Thompson.
This is followed by the best writing of the evening, which unfortunately is not Hall’s, but Dr. King’s, with Bates delivering portions of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why this play falls apart so quickly must rest to some degree on director Smith’s shoulders. The set by scenic designer John Iacovelli is lovely, but tips the hand of the playwright right off, as do the pantomiming of props by the actors. Then there is Bates goatee. Hardly Dr. King like.

But what undermines the production most is rather sloppy and juvenile writing by the playwright.

Did I mention this won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play?

♦   ♦   ♦

The Mountaintop 

by Katori Hall

Directed by Roger Guenveur Smith

Produced by Joseph Stern

Playing now through April 10 (times and dates below)

• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Jan. 30 (preview); Feb. 6 (opening), 20, 27; March 5, 12, 19, 26; April 2, 9 (dark Feb. 13)
• Sundays at 3 p.m.: Jan. 31 (preview); Feb.7, 14, 21, 28; March 6, 13; 20, 27; April 3, 10
• Sundays at 7 p.m.: Feb. 14, 21, 28; March 6, 13; 20, 27; April 3*, 10 (no 7 p.m. performance on Jan. 31 or Feb. 7)
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: Feb. 15, 22, 29; March 14, 28; April 4* (dark Feb. 8, March 7 and March 21)

NOTE: Panel discussions with special guests will take place following the evening performance on Sunday, April 3 (the anniversary of the night prior to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the play takes place) and after the performance on Monday, April 4 (the anniversary of the assassination).

The Matrix Theatre Company
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(west of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea)

For Tickets and Additional Information

phone (323) 852-1445 or go to www.matrixtheatre.com

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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