Kent State Pan-African Studies Department Presents "The Mountaintop"
Since its inception, American theater has always been a space where artists felt empowered to explore the volatile issue of race. On Friday, September 25, the African Community Theatre at Kent State University continues this tradition by presenting the regional premier of The Mountaintop, playwright Katori Hall’s stirring piece about the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Director Michael Oatman re-imagines the hit Broadway play by double-casting the role with both a white and black Martin Luther King Jr. (Three of the shows will feature Robert Branch, a white actor portraying King.) “When I first got offered the role, I literally kissed the feet of the director. It was a dream. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero of mine before I even knew what heroes were. I was humbled. I wanted to honor this man and honor this text,” said Branch.
While Oatman understands that the piece may stir some controversy he also hopes that it stirs discussion about America’s original sin: race. “I truly wanted to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity. I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” said Oatman about his non-traditional cast. “I wanted the contrast . . . I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same, coming from two different actors, with two different racial backgrounds.”
Set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination on April 4, 1968, this intensely inspiring play bravely seeks to illuminate the man and not the monument. Frank, raw and at times uncompromising, Katori Hall’s play is a new classic that must be counted as a landmark which attempts to examine King’s complicated legacy. With a fearless spirit the playwright boldly asks the question, “What if walls could talk,” by exploring King’s humor, achievements, and fears while bringing out the man behind one of America’s most significant icons—a true feat.
Local actor and director Cristal Christian, who will be portraying the role of Camae, a mysterious young woman who appears at Martin Luther King Jr.’s door, was stunned when she initially read the play. “To be honest, it was shocking . . . the playwright presents a vision of Martin Luther King Jr. that was so human and emotional, I was truly blown away,” said Christian, who admits she was nervous when she heard about the casting of the play. “My first response was, what do you mean Martin Luther King is going to be white?” While Oatman knows that the casting will at first be shocking, he is hoping that the shock wears off and some deeper questions can be explored in this piece. “Had I not found the right actors for this piece, I do not think that I would have even attempted it,” said Oatman, who is also an adjunct playwriting professor in the Department of Theater, Music and Dance.
The Mountaintop runs in the Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theatre from September 25, 2015 to October 4, 2015. The Mountaintop is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York. For show times and a complete schedule of the African Community Theatre, please visit www.kent.edu/pas/african-community-theater. Media contacts: Michael Oatman 216-253-1656 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org