Penumbra Theatre’s Lou Bellamy brings “The Mountaintop” to the Guthrie stage

Arts / Article

“The Mountaintop” runs through April 19 at the Guthrie Theater. Photo: Tim Fuller

“The Mountaintop” attempts to examine the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with fresh eyes: a man wrestling with his already larger-than-life historical footprint, seen through the lens of the last night of his life – April 3, 1968 – and a chance encounter that quickly turns surreal. The play by Katori Hall – on stage at the Guthrie Theater, co-produced by (Knight Arts grantee) Penumbra Theatre and Arizona Theatre – is set the evening before his assassination. He’s in his room at the Lorraine Motel, unwinding after delivering the (now-famous) “mountaintop speech” that afternoon for a group of striking sanitation workers who’d gathered to hear him at a local church. A hotel maid comes in to bring MLK some news and then stays for a long, and increasingly strange, conversation about the measure of his life.

Critical reception for the Twin Cities version of this production, directed by Penumbra’s Lou Bellamy, has thus far been mixed. Star-Tribune critic Rohan Preston has nothing but praise for the show, calling it a “flawless production… as much a drama of imagined historical proportions as it is a parable of the civil rights era.” Writing for Vita.mn, Jay Gabler has some quibbles, saying it’s a “daring, eccentric, sometimes frustrating play;” but, he too, ultimately urges Minnesota audiences to see it. City Pages’ Ed Huyck wasn’t convinced: he says the production “looks and feels handsome, and has a strong performance from James T. Alfred as King” but is ultimately derailed by the plot’s eccentricities. (If you’d like to browse through more reviewer responses, Minnesota Public Radio’s Marianne Combs’ has gathered a roundup of still more links.)

Production photo by Tim Fuller

Production photo by Tim Fuller

Truth be told, I’m almost more eager to go to the post-play discussions on offer than I am to see the play itself. Through the run of the show, Penumbra is offering topical conversations on contemporary issues in civil rights featuring representatives from area social justice organizations. Panelists will talk about the politics of America’s prison system, the question of LGBTQ marriage equality and, more broadly, on the question: “Human Rights Barometer: Where Are We?”

“The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall, directed by Lou Bellamy and co-produced by Penumbra Theatre and Arizona Theatre, is on the Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage from March 28 through April 19, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis.  For tickets and specific show times, visit the Guthrie Theater website. For more on the post-play discussions, visit www.penumbratheatre.org