Friday, March 21, 2014

GableStage: The Mountaintop (reviews)

mountaintop_adGableStage opened its production of The Mountaintop on March 15, 2014.

The night before his assassination, after delivering one of his most memorable speeches, Martin Luther King retires to room 306 in the now famous Lorraine Motel in Memphis. While a storm rages outside, a mysterious young maid arrives with some surprising news -- and King is forced to confront his past and the future of his people.

Joseph Adler directed a cast that featured C. Anthony Jackson and Karen Stephens.


Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

Certainly, The Mountaintop is about civil rights, it’s about Dr. Martin Luther King’s place in the struggle, it’s about King as a three-dimensional person, flawed but justifiably honored…. The result under Joseph Adler’s direction and superb work by actors C. Anthony Jackson and Karen Stephens is a moving exploration of the meaning of a life’s achievement leavened with copious amounts of humor.

Adler is a famously strong-willed director who uses actors as tools to create his vision on stage while considering their offered ideas. So while his direction is rarely flashy and self-conscious (other than a love of a dramatic use of sounds and lights), what you see often on his stage is a lot of Adler. Given the difficult shifting tones of this piece, it is his pacing and staging and sculpting that makes it work as well as it does.

….one linchpin has to be the actor portraying an iconic figure we have seen and heard scores of times. Jackson is not King’s doppelganger, but he has made a second career speaking King’s words. As a result, his resonant baritone embraces King’s public speaking patterns and cadences forged in the pulpit. But...(Hall), Adler and Jackson are portraying the human being, not the saint chiseled into stone… Jackson’s King is simply a man a profoundly admirable man with shining virtues, yes, but a recognizable human being whose multi-faceted character makes him relatable

Stephens is simply brilliant as Camae. No asterisks. Her work is breathtaking whether she’s defiantly but adorably whipping back some attitude in response to King’s sexism, or standing on a bed slyly lampooning King’s preacher’s cadences

The road may twist a bit, but the trip to The Mountaintop is worth the climb.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop has become one of the most-produced plays in American regional theater over the past two seasons. Why is that? Look no further than GableStage’s engaging, exquisite new production of the Olivier Award-winning play to understand the reasons for its success.

…director Joseph Adler has assembled a little dream cast in C. Anthony Jackson as King and Karen Stephens as Camae, a maid at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Though the setup seems straightforward, though the action never leaves the place that will become the scene of King’s assassination, Hall layers surprise after surprise into her text, allowing Adler, Jackson and Stephens to take audiences on a wildly theatrical ride.

As for the performances, they’re of the quality that wins awards: funny at first, richly layered, deeply moving.

Jackson… has the casual and formal cadences of King’s speech down cold. The actor gives himself over to the complexities of Hall’s King, to the fear, desire, ego, despair and sense of mission. Ultimately, his warts-and-all King is a man who evokes compassion.

Stephens is a wonder in her GableStage debut. She’s funny, self-assured, alluring and in control. When Camae dons King’s suit coat and hops onto one of the beds to deliver a speech that morphs from reasonable to faux incendiary, Stephens nails King’s oratorical style. She and this production of The Mountaintop deserve an “amen” chorus.

Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:

In one of the best productions of the season Joe Adler has brought to GableStage, two enthralling actors star in a witty version of the precursor to a tragic night.

Stephens, in a magical performance, is the young housemaid who forces King to face his wins and his losses, his heroics and his weaknesses. Jackson is brilliant in his portrayal of a man facing his end.

Adler’s excellent direction and the fascinating performances by Stephens and Jackson are well matched by the technical aspects of the blistering thunderstorms, the crashing blackouts and the pounding rain on the balcony outside the motel room. Thank Lyle Baskin, Jeff Quinn and Matt Corey for the excellent set, lights and sound.

John Thomason wrote for The Miami New Times:

…it's unusual and refreshing to see King… as a human being with problems shared by most of us. We're used to seeing him as more icon than man — a talking head on YouTube or, every third Monday of January, on CNN, where snippets of video revisit history's embodiment of nonviolence and racial harmony. In Hall's The Mountaintop, which is enjoying its South Florida premiere at GableStage, he's much more than his sound bites.

This production is never more engaging than in the first, electric half-hour between King and Camae. It is a flirtatious and mysterious testing of waters in which effortless wit, erotic tension, and precisely timed thunderbolts pull them closer, push them apart, and lure them closer again. Joseph Adler's direction emphasizes the rhythm in their conversations, drawing out unspoken desires with poise and patience.

Both of the main parts are acted exceedingly well. Jackson portrays King as a complex figure rife with conflicts and contradictions. In Stephens' authentic regional drawl, Hall's words sound better and funnier than ever.

The problem arrives with Hall's big reveal, the moment we've all been waiting for, which I won't spoil. Hall does a fine enough job spoiling her own work. It suffices to say this couple's power dynamic shifts as the play meanders toward a metaphysical morass, a narrative gamble that flies so wildly off course it might as well be a Malaysian airplane.

Yet Jackson and Stephens soldier on so well that, though the story's choices become disastrous, the production is never boring. It helps that it's gorgeous to look at. Lyle Baskin's three-dimensional scenic design incorporates a vintage "Lorraine Motel" sign, visible from the window of the motel room interior and authentically lit by Jeff Quinn, while a steady stream of realistic rain patters the ground. Thunderclaps from sound designer Matt Corey rumble in the near distance, setting an atmosphere of turbulence that begins even before the play starts.

GableStage presents The Mountaintop through April 13, 2014.

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