The Department of Theatre has turned Fulks Theatre into the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, circa April 4, 1968 – just hours before civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
The Mountaintop imagines a series of events that could have taken place the night before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, said Adam Hester, faculty adviser for the play. The show integrates magical realism, which are supernatural type events that provide epiphanies and startling moments as King reflects on his life. After King delivers his iconic mountaintop speech, he comes back to the Lorraine Motel and orders room service asking for coffee, which a maid eventually brings to his room. We realize very quickly that she’s no ordinary maid, Hester said.
“There’s something very different and very special about her,” Hester said. “As the play unfolds, the playwright is examining King’s life, taking him off the pedestal, looking at him as a man and challenging every person in the audience with the idea that like he was a man, you, too are people who can pick up the baton and carry this forward.”
The two-person play is the first at ACU to feature an all African-American cast, which includes junior Myles Colbert, who plays King, and senior Alisha Taylor, who plays Carrie Mae the motel maid. Laura Harris, student director, said it’s been uplifting to be a part of the show in today’s social and political climate, and she also hopes this helps further diversify casting at ACU and choosing plays that feature people of color in powerful roles.
“I think that this play is for the dreamer,” said Harris, senior theatre education major from Little Rock, Arkansas. “This play is to remind us that each of us has a dream. We can do so much with the dreams that we have and the vision that we see for the world. Whether that is doing something within our community, our church, our classroom – any of those places – we can make a difference. I hope that this play just lights a fire in people to be more intentional about making connections and making change.”
Stepping into King’s shoes is, of course, a weighty undertaking, so throughout the rehearsal process Harris has guided Colbert in his portrayal and which aspects of King’s life they wanted to pull out and highlight.
“In no way do I want him to be an impersonator, that’s what I’ve told him throughout this process: ‘Your goal is to help people see Dr. King so you do have to know his body mannerisms and the way he carries his speech and his pattern of speech,” Harris said. “But you get to be Myles as Dr. King, and that’s something that only Myles can do. If it was a different actor, they would have a different portrayal of Dr. King, so getting to see Myles’ unique portrayal of Dr. King is really powerful.”
The playwright revisits some of the things about King that we remember to some degree or maybe know about vaguely but also some things that we have no idea about and also some things that feel like they’re fresh off the pages of today’s newspaper, Hester said.
“A lot of it is very immediate and feels as if it’s happening right now,” Hester said. “It’s very exciting, it’s very engaging; they have wonderful senses of humor, and the play just seems to begin this movement that doesn’t stop until it’s over. It’s a real compelling piece.”
Show times include March 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fulks Theatre in the Williams Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available online at acu.edu/theatre, and students can also get half price tickets the day of the performance at the box office.
Hester said that even though it’s a short, small play, it still packs a punch as the audience can take away something to apply to their own life.
“The takeaway should be: ‘What is my part in what is going on in our country right now?” Hester said. “What am I called to do? How do I need to pick up the baton and move forward? What is my part in making this a less hostile, less oppressive, less segregated, less judgmental place to live and a more unified, loving, inspired place to live?'”