Penumbra presents intriguing, uneven The Mountaintop

James T. Alfred.

James T. Alfred.

Katori Hall's The Mountaintop is a strange creature that tries to do much, but never merges together into a satisfying whole.

The concept is intriguing, as we sit in with Martin Luther King Jr. on his final night on Earth. A thunderstorm rages outside of a dingy hotel room in Memphis, while an unsettled King tries to craft a speech he will never give.

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[jump] The piece, produced by Penumbra Theatre Company, the Arizona Theatre Company, and the Guthrie Theater, looks and feels handsome, and has a strong performance from James T. Alfred as King. Hall's work begins to shift from character study to something more bizarre as a maid, Camae, arrives at room 306 with some coffee and sticks around for a long, long chat.

The play moves away from realism into something far more fantastical that I won't spoil here. However, I will say that it eventually takes King on a metaphysical journey into the beyond. Erika LaVonn as Camae works to bridge the extreme sides of her character, but the roles feels as much a cipher as a person.

A lot of the uneven nature comes from Hall's script, which takes us on a pretty extreme journey from the realistic to the fantastic that eventually fails in probing either the man or the myth of Martin Luther King Jr. It comes completely off the rails near the end, as we get a trite survey of the nearly 50 years of American history since King's death.

It almost gets saved in the last couple of minutes, as we hear part of King's last speech, given on the night of April 3, 1968. Here, the idea of the man and the myth finally combine into the powerful figure we all know.


The Mountaintop
Through April 19
Guthrie Theater

818 S. Second St., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.