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On Stage: With love, humor, 'Mountaintop' reveals King as 'just a man'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2013 - On the evening of April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. smokes, frets and flirts with a hotel maid not knowing these simple acts will be among his last.

But King (Ron Conner) isn’t the star of Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,”presented by the Black Rep. The hotel maid, Camae (Alicia Reve') is.

After she brings coffee to room 306 of Memphis' Lorraine Hotel, Camae and King practice her name. “Cam-ay,” she enunciates. “Cam-ay,” King repeats. “Sounds good coming out of yo’ mouth,” she replies. “Lots of things do,” he quips.

But Camae’s the one with the real mouth on her. Speaking to King about the throngs that came to hear him earlier that night, Camae lets loose a string of profanity about how motherf****** grand that must be. With a just-right blend of attitude and vulnerability, she has “Preacher Kang” wrapped around her finger this stormy night.

Before long she’s giving him tips on how to succeed at this civil-rights leadership gig.

“You want to know what little ole me would do?” Camae asks King as she literally puts herself in his shoes — and his jacket — to show him a thing or two about public speaking.

“We have gathered here today to deal with a serious issue,” she announces to her imaginary audience while standing on his bed. “It is an issue of great preponderance.”

“You like that word, 'preponderance?'” she grins, asking what he thinks of her "oratorical skills.”

"Not too many maids spouting off well-formed diatribes like that," King answers.

But neither Camae’s allure nor the triple-locked hotel-room door can keep danger at bay. A thunderclap reflexively brings King to his knees. “I thought they got me,” he shudders.

A scared guy with stinky feet, bad breath (Coretta forgot to pack his toothbrush) and even some violent tendencies is how Hall paints her King. “Just a man,” he says. “Just a man,” Camae agrees.

A pillow fight, a tickling match and ... a single gunshot, and the baton is passed.

Passed to a diverse relay that includes Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, according to a multimedia presentation. And passed to all of us, King emphasizes.

The ending seems a little abrupt and pieces of the latter half seem implausible even though they’re already part of another realm. But all and all, Hall’s script — winner of the 2010 Olivier award for best new play — and Linda Kennedy’s direction add up to an entertaining and thought-provoking look at the civil rights icon as more of a man than a King.

Disclosure: Nancy Fowler’s daughter is an employee of the Black Rep.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.