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.
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:
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?
♦ ♦ ♦
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