Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most recognizable names in United States civil rights history, but who truly was he?
Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop aims to answer this question. Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s production of the play runs from Feb. 26 to March 14 online. It tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) on the eve of his assassination.
Director Audrey Dwyer says the play focuses on humanity and transformation to help deconstruct the iconic image of MLK.
“Katori Hall has written a very bold and imaginative piece that asks us to look at MLK as a human, as opposed to the icon, world leader and activist,” she says.
“I am encouraging (actors Cherissa Richards and Ray Strachan) to bring their humanity, vulnerability and their honesty to this piece. I am also encouraging them to allow themselves to be transformed by the play, and I hope that the audience will be as well.”
Dwyer says this play is important, as it helps present the controversial side of MLK, which is seldom discussed.
“Although he is still quite beloved after his death, a lot of what he was speaking of has been misquoted or been parsed apart,” she says.
“We looked at how he was back then and how he is viewed today. Katori Hall is trying to bring us a very realistic version of who he is, warts and all – that he was not perfect, just as none of us are perfect.”
February is Black History Month, and MLK is still seen as a lasting figure of the civil-rights movement. However, Dwyer hopes the play expands society’s outlook on leaders and themselves.
“My hope is that when people watch it, they will be able to check themselves, to see how to make those changes and to see how much further we need to go as a society,” she says.
Strachan, who portrays MLK, says the behind-the-scenes nature of the play drew him to the character.
“What really attracted me to the role was being able to see the flawed man, a man dealing with mental illness and how he was physically ill from everything he (had) gone through,” he says.
“I am trying to be honest to (his) humanity and the real person he was, not just the iconic interpretation of him.”
Strachcan says the play operates as a vehicle for self-assessment, and it reveals the real expectation behind passing the baton to the next generation.
“It is one of those timeless plays that not just focuses on leaders and their roles, but what we as people can contribute to this movement of equality, eradicating poverty and of peace and love,” he says.
The Mountaintop airs from Feb. 26 to March 14 online at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s website. Tickets and more information can be found at royalmtc.ca.
Published in Volume 75, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 25, 2021)