The Mountaintop Creative

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Stephen Scovasso
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Assistant Director
Patrick J. McMahon
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Katori Hall
Memphis-native KATORI HALL is an Olivier Award-winning playwright and the bookwriter and co-producer of West End and Broadway hit, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. She is, perhaps, best known for The Mountaintop. The play, which fictionalizes the last night in Martin Luther King’s life, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2010 before opening on Broadway in October 2011 to critical acclaim. Katori’s other works include the award-winning Hurt Village, Hoodoo Love, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, Our Lady of Kibeho and The Blood Quilt. She is also the director of the award-winning short, ARKABUTLA.

The History Of The Mountaintop

Katori Hall was inspired to write The Mountaintop based on a story her mother told her as a child. Carrie Mae Golden (who the character Camae is based on) was living in Memphis during the time of the Civil Rights Movement and had the opportunity to hear King’s last speech on April 3, 1968. However, the family was too afraid of the threats of violence and bombing and, like many Memphis citizens, stayed away from the Mason Temple that night. Katori Hall says that this story “planted a seed in me so deep that when I got the skill and the desire and passion to write the story, I took it on.” Hall grew up in Memphis, close to the Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated. The legacy surrounding this famous leader was a constant presence in her life and when she began studying play writing at Julliard, she started putting this story on paper.

The play premiered in London at a 65-seat theater. After critical acclaim and a sell-out run the play transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The production won the Olivier Award for Best New Play. Theater critic Charles Spencer in London’s The Daily Telegraph wrote "It is a beautiful and startling piece, beginning in a naturalistic fashion before shifting gear into something magical, spiritual and touching."

The play finally premiered in New York City at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on September 22, 2011. The cast consisted of Samuel L. Jackson who made his Broadway debut in the role of Dr. King along with Angela Bassett who portrayed Camae. In addition to New York City, performances were premiered in the Boston area and in Houston, Texas.

About the play, Michael Eric Dyson writes that Hall peers brilliantly into the shadows of King’s last night on earth and lights it briefly on the monumental speech he pulled from the core of his soul. King’s words dripped in death, but Hall convinces us that King wasn’t simple addressing his immediate circumstances, but speaking to the specter of imminent death that The Mountaintop is full of symbols that a multitude of readers skip over thinking they are "extra details" included in the play. These symbols help further develop the themes throughout the play, as well as give a hidden meaning to some of the most simplistic things. Katori Hall explains that she has created the image of Martin Luther King Jr. with "warts and all.  A warts-and-all portrayal of Dr. King is important because there's this extraordinary human being who is actually quite ordinary. I feel as though by portraying him with his flaws and foibles, we, too, can see—as human beings who have these flaws—that we, too, can be Kings; we, too, can carry on that baton that he has passed down to us.”