Playhouse’s ‘The Mountaintop’ Imagines MLK’s Final Night

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Martin Luther King Jr. is often perceived as an icon but rarely as just a regular man.

Despite his outsized life, the late civil rights leader had his own issues, fears and worries that were known only to those closest to him.

“The Mountaintop,” a drama that opens a two-weekend run in the Youngstown Playhouse’s Moyer Room on Friday, takes a unique approach to telling the story of King. It pulls back the curtain on what King was like as a person.

“It’s a peek into the real life of Martin Luther King,” says James Major Burns, who is directing the Playhouse production. “It puts together the pieces of the puzzle, and shows a human side of him, what he was like when the cameras weren’t on.”

The play by Katori Hall is named for King’s “The Mountaintop” speech, which is the last one he ever gave. It’s a metaphor for heaven, says Burns.

The two-person play takes place in King’s room in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968 – the night before he was assassinated. The only other character is a maid who comes to his room.

“She’s actually an angel,” Burns says. “They talk and form a bond. It shows that Martin Luther King Jr. was a man, although he was looked at as a messiah. That is the message I want the audience to leave with.”

Among King’s fears was a feeling that he would be killed, the director says.

King also had the nagging feeling that, despite all that he had done for his cause, it wasn’t enough.

“It’s how we all feel,” Burns says. “The play is a very relatable piece of work. He was a great person, but a human being first.”

King is played by Tae Stubbs, and the maid is played by Tasia Ford.

Burns is an actor who is known for playing some high-profile roles in recent Playhouse productions, including “Dreamgirls” (2019), “The Color Purple” (2021) and “Elf” (2021). “The Mountaintop” is his directorial debut.

“When I read the script for the first time, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my feet wet as a director.”

The play, which won the 2010 Olivier Award for best new play, was originally put on the Playhouse schedule a couple years ago but fell through because of the pandemic.

Burns said he is a fan of the playwright’s work, and notes that “The Mountaintop” has a personal connection to her.

“[Katori Hall] was going to go to King’s speech in Memphis but her mother told her that she couldn’t go because things were getting too wild,” he said. “She named the maid character [Camae] after her mother. We all know what happened that day, but [Hall} brings up what might have happened the night before.”

Showtimes for “The Mountaintop” are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, 19, 25 and 26; and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 20 and 27.

Tickets are $18 ($15 for seniors, students and military; $10 for groups of 10 or more) and are available weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the box office at 330 788 8739 or in person at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, downtown. Tickets are also available at YoungstownPlayhouse.org.

All seats are general admission. Patrons are required to wear a mask.

Pictured: Tae Stubbs and Tasia Ford in a scene from The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Mountaintop.” (Photo by Wayne Bonner III).

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.