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Preview: Short North Stage and King Arts Complex Present The Mountaintop

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Preview: Short North Stage and King Arts Complex Present The MountaintopEarley Dean as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in The Mountaintop, a re-imagination of the last night of Dr. King’s life.
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Short North Stage teams up with the King Arts Complex to bring a new production of The Mountaintop to the Green Room at the Garden Theater directed by Alan Bomar Jones. The production coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination.

Michelle Golden as Camae and Earley Dean as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in The Mountaintop.

Michelle Golden as Camae and Earley Dean as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in The Mountaintop.

The Mountaintop announced Katori Hall, its playwright, as one of the most inventive and engaging playwrights in American theatre. In its London run, The Guardian called it, “a well-made and enjoyable fantasy [that] is a variation on that old-fashioned theatrical staple: two unlikely people brought together in a room.” The two people here are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Earley Dean) and a hotel maid (Michelle Golden), in Dr. King’s last night on Earth. The Telegraphcalled it “audacious on many levels” and said, “With consummate artistry, Hall interweaves fact and fiction.”

In an interview for the Washington Post, Hall said, “This is a man that provided a fundamental shift in American society. King forced us to see people of color are not second-class citizens; they are equal. He did this extraordinary thing. But he wasn’t superhuman. He always said, ‘I’m a sinner. Not a saint.’ That is the King you will see in ‘Mountaintop.’ . . . It was important to see the humanity in this hero so we can see the hero in ourselves.”

Director Alan Bomar Jones is a resident artist with the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton. Jones may be best known to Columbus audiences for his stirring turn as Doaker in CATCO’s production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and he’s racked up accolades from St. Petersburg to Baltimore to Pittsburgh. Jones has assembled a stellar cast for his take on The Mountaintop: two faces familiar to anyone following Short North Stage for the last few years.

Michelle Golden made the most out of her turn as the Angel in their riveting Angels in America. But Golden blew me away the first time I saw her on the Garden stage, in their Passing Strange as the Youth’s mother. I said, in my personal blog “[Her last scene is] the most heart-wrenching part in the play and Golden plays it so beautifully it’s hard to imagine her being bettered.” That performance sticks with me even years later.

And Earley Dean more recently made a splash with one of the finest supporting parts in American musicals, Jimmy in Dreamgirls. I said, for Columbus Underground, “He wraps the character’s swaggering, workaholic tendencies (half Ray Charles and half James Brown) and his real empathy for people and self-awareness in one contradictory, charismatic package. Dean explodes, making his own one of the best representations of that supernova where calculation and raw talent coalesce.” I can’t wait for his interpretation of an even more iconic personality.

Michelle Golden as Camae and Earley Dean as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in The Mountaintop.

Michelle Golden as Camae and Earley Dean as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in The Mountaintop.

On a personal note, I love Memphis like few cities. And in Memphis, visiting the Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel where the killing happened, is one of my most treasured memories. I’ve never seen a history museum that uses multimedia and interactivity with that level of sophistication. And never in my life have I heard anything as heavy and as quiet as the air standing with other people looking at the preserved-as-it-was-left hotel room at the end of the tour. It’s with that lump in my throat I’m looking forward to this production of The Mountaintop.

The Mountaintop runs through April 3rd with shows at 8:00 pm Thursday through Saturday, 3:00 pm Sunday, and a special performance at 8:00 pm Tuesday, April 3rd, on the eve of Dr. King’s death. For tickets and more info, visit shortnorthstage.org.

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