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The Mountaintop

I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee

Lorraine Motel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination
Lorraine Motel,
site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination
Less than a day after King spoke these words, he was assassinated. Given the increased pressure placed upon him by the FBI, perhaps he saw what was to come. The King family later won a lawsuit that ruled there was a conspiracy in King's death. Corretta Scott King remarked that the trial showed that a "conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband."

The playwright, Katori Hall, grew up hearing stories about that last night from her mother, who was planning on attending that speech, but was warned by her mother about possible violence. Hall's surprising, inventive, and inspirational play covers King's (Cedric Mays) time in his motel room, after the speech and before his assassination. King is joined in his room by Camae (Betty Hart), who appears ostensibly to clean his room, but reveals incrementally a much grander purpose.

Betty Hart as Camae and Cedric Mays as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Betty Hart as Camae
and Cedric Mays as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo: P. Switzer
During the course of their conversation, Hall removes King from his pedestal and paints a deeply complex and human portrait of the man who became the focal point for the civil rights movement in the U.S. In Camae, Hall introduces a strong and intelligent voice that questions a number of King's premises while expressing long-held frustrations of African-Americans toward a violent, racist, and fundamentally criminal society. The beauty of Hall's imaginings is that we are privy to some compelling suggestions as to what may have been going through King's mind during his last night on earth.

Hart's Camae, provides an easy going, yet incisive, mindset and a wonderful philosophical devils' advocate and spiritual guide for Mays' King, in whom we see all the drive, compassion, and contradictions of the human rights crusader we continue to honor.

Cedric Mays as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Betty Hart as Camae
Cedric Mays as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Betty Hart as Camae
Photo: P. Switzer
Before King is content to let go physically, emotionally, and spiritually of this plane, Camae gives him a glimpse of the future: a look at how the image of African-Americans—the good, the bad, and the ugly—has changed in the mass media. For those who heard or have read King's outrage regarding the war in Vietnam and U.S. imperialism in general, this sequence seems to cast a liberal filter over the great orator's radical perspective, as if he would be satisfied with the token changes in race relations, continued imperialist wars, blue party/red party charade, and acceptance of the entrenched power structure. Yet, despite this narrow mainstream and overly commercial spin on progress, Hall's final speech for King is inspirational and wins the day.

The Arvada Center's presentation of The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, runs through April 17th. Tickets may be purchased online at arvadacenter.org, or by calling the box office at 720-898-7200.

Bob Bows



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