What was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth like? What was going through his mind on the eve of his assassination in 1968? This is the theme explored by 30-year-old Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall in her compelling Broadway debut The Mountaintop, now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater through January 15.
Starring Hollywood luminaries Samuel L. Jackson as King and Angela Bassett as the maid who shows up with his evening meal at Memphis, TN’s, now infamous Lorraine Motel, the play capitalizes on its stars’ effortless chemistry and undeniable stage presence to deliver an intimate portrait of a flawed, funny, deeply human icon. Since the story takes place in an ordinary-looking motel room, this isn’t the kind of Broadway show you go to if you’re looking for lavish production values (though there are some pretty impressive thunderstorm effects). Instead, the fireworks this show delivers come from the performances, especially from Bassett, who steals the show with an especially climactic monologue.
Since The Mountaintop consists of 90 uninterrupted minutes of dialogue between the same two characters in the same drab setting, admittedly there were a few moments when things felt a little slow. But once all the play’s twists and turns were revealed, the audience at the performance I attended gave Jackson and Bassett a well-deserved standing ovation. Check it out, and I guarantee you will too. [Noelia Castro-Green]