Playhouse Performance of ‘The Mountaintop’ Creates Interesting Scenario

Reviewed by J.E. BALLLANTYNE JR.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Friday night the Youngstown Playhouse launched into the second half of its 97th season with Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop.” 

This is the first production since the Playhouse and Stambaugh Auditorium entered into a collaborative agreement to turn Playhouse management over to Stambaugh Auditorium.

 “The Mountaintop” deals with the last night in the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and is set in his room at the Lorraine Motel on the night of April 3, 1968.  King would be assassinated the next day, April 4.  Although not based on any actual incidents that took place that evening, the play is billed as a “reimagination” of the events on April 3. 

The play begins with King returning to his motel room following his historic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

With a storm raging outside he begins to wind down which includes ordering coffee from room service.  When the coffee arrives, delivered by the beautiful maid, Camae, the show takes off into several directions, including comedic and dramatic moments.

 It turns out that Camae is actually an angel sent to bring Dr. King “home.”  

What ensues develops into revealing that King was, first and foremost, a man; a human being with faults and foibles just like everyone else. But it also transcends into King’s undying commitment to the civil rights movement.

Tae Stubbs portrays King with a strong belief in the character he inhabits. Although the beginning of the show was a bit slow getting going, it is not his fault but rather the way the script is styled and written.

Stubbs’ performance throughout shows the depth of character and uncertainty that King himself lived with on a daily basis. His line delivery is strong and although he does not physically resemble King in any way, the audience buys the authenticity of his portrayal.

There were several times, however, where he does seem to slip out of the character a bit and becomes stiff and almost mechanical in some movements. This seemed to interrupt the flow of the character at certain points but he was able to jump right back and regain his momentum.

Camae, the maid/angel is played by Tasia Nichcole Ford.  Ford offers up a character that is a total opposite to that of King. In fact, the slow start of the show was kicked into high gear upon her initial entrance. Ford not only has great comedic timing but can also flip the switch to some moving dramatic moments.

The one thing that seemed to hurt her performance was at times she spoke so fast that she was tough to follow. One of her big moments is illustrating what she would do if she were in King’s shoes (which she literally was). 

Both actors play off of each other extraordinarily well and make the reimagined scenario almost as though it had actually taken place.

Two-character shows are often tough to pull off since there are no supporting characters on which to rely.  These two didn’t really need any support.

Directed by first-time director, James Major Burns, “The Mountaintop” was a formidable project on which to initially inhabit the director’s chair. Aside from a few awkward “first-time” director choices, Burns did well with the production as a whole.

Scenic designers Johnny Pecano and Trevail Maurice created a believable seedy motel room complete with messed up bed blankets and barren decor. Lighting Designer Ellen Licitra provided an equally bright and plain lighting design to compliment the locale. Anyone who has spent in a motel room on a rainy night could certainly feel like they were there once again.

“The Mountaintop” is an interesting insight into the character of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was he a messiah?No. Was he perfect?  No. He was a man, a human being like everyone else but what separated him from most is what we see in his drive and belief for the civil rights movement. Few of us, if any, know what King was like in his private life but this show provides a glimpse into what drove him and the doubts and fears which he experienced.

“The Mountaintop” will continue Feb. 19, 25, 26 at 7:30 pm; Feb. 20, 27 at 2:30 pm

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