Mill Mountain Theatre opens its 2017 Season with a two-performance presentation of The Mountaintop, an acclaimed drama depicting the final hours of life of American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
The show on Feb. 24 and 25 also will begin MMT’s new Waldron Fringe Series, a group of plays with serious and provocative topics presented as staged readings in the 120-seat Waldron Stage.
“This new series is a big step for Mill Mountain Theatre artistically,” said Ginger Poole, MMT’s Producing Artistic Director. “We are reclaiming as a performance venue a space that has been devoted to MMT Conservatory education programs for the past several years. And we are doing it with serious, often tough dramas intended to engage audiences with thoughtful issues.”
Beginning that journey with a play about Martin Luther King Jr. in Black History Month should raise questions for our audience about contemporary issues of civil disobedience, human rights and fear of oppression, she said. The play is set in 1968 on the eve of King’s assassination in a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. The staged reading format uses projections rather than full scenery and basic costumes so the audience focus and attention is on the text and storytelling by actors who are just a few feet away.
The artistic staff of The Mountaintop consists of three New York-based African Americans who are new to Roanoke audiences: Director G. D. Kimble, Blake Morris portraying King, and Maribel Martinez in the role of Camae, a hotel maid who brings coffee to King’s hotel room and engages him in extended conversation about his private fears and anxieties masked by his very public career.
“The power of this piece is that it shows, before he was an icon, Dr. King was just a man,” Kimble said. “A man like any other human being with the same hopes, fears, faults and yes – mortality. It’s in that humanity that we find seeds and the fuel for his greatness and the lesson that greatness lies in all of us. In these times of discord any one of us through anger, compassion, sacrifice, and guts can affect change. Any one of us, no matter how small we believe we are, can be the single voice that ignites a million more.”
Morris, who will portray King in the performances, said “I’m so proud to be part of a play that seeks to meditate on Dr. King’s personal search for an inner justice and inner peace.”
Martinez said she is excited to act in this play at a time when Americans need to stand for what they believe. “I find (playwright) Katori Hall’s depiction of these characters and their relationship with fear to be so fascinating. We all have to face our fears in order to make change.”
Tickets for The Mountaintop are $15 each, less than half Mill Mountain Theatre’s price for mainstage productions. “We want this production to be accessible to audiences who can benefit from the thoughtful discussion it prompts,” Poole said. Reservations can be made by calling the Center in the Square box office at 540-342-5740 or online at www.millmountain.org Performances will be in The Waldron Stage at 20 Church Ave. in downtown Roanoke.
Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of The Mountaintop is made possible in part by generous support by Actors’ Equity Association; Center in the Square; National Endowment for the Arts; and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.