YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Martin Luther King Jr. is often seen as an icon, but rarely just a man.
Despite his outsized life, the late civil rights leader had his own issues, fears and worries that were known only to those closest to him.
“The Mountaintop,” a drama that opens a two-weekend run at the Youngstown Playhouse’s Moyer Room on Friday, takes a unique approach to telling King’s story. This pulls back the curtain on what King was like as a person.
“It’s a glimpse into the real life of Martin Luther King,” says James Major Burns, who heads up production at Playhouse. “It brings the puzzle pieces together and shows a human side of him, how he looked when the cameras weren’t on.”
The Katori Hall play is named after King’s speech “The Mountaintop”, which is the last he ever gave. It’s a metaphor for heaven, Burns says.
The two-piece takes place in King’s room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968 – the day before he was assassinated. The only other character is a maid who comes to her room.
“He’s actually an angel,” Burns says. “They talk and form a bond. This shows that Martin Luther King Jr. was a man, even though he was considered a messiah. This is the message that I want the public to leave.
Among King’s fears was the feeling that he would be killed, the director says.
King also had a nagging feeling that, despite everything he had done for his cause, it wasn’t enough.
“That’s how we all feel,” Burns said. “The piece is a very relevant work. He was a great person, but first and foremost a human being.
King is played by Tae Stubbs and the maid is played by Tasia Ford.
Burns is an actor best known for playing prominent roles in recent Playhouse productions, including “Dreamgirls” (2019), “The Color Purple” (2021), and “Elf” (2021). “The Mountaintop” is his first film as a director.
“When I first read the script, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my feet wet as a director.”
The play, which won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play, was originally entered into Playhouse’s schedule a few years ago but fell through due to the pandemic.
Burns has said he is a fan of the playwright’s work and notes that “The Mountaintop” has a personal connection to her.
“[Katori Hall] was going to attend King’s speech in Memphis, but his mom told him she couldn’t go because things were getting too crazy,” he said. “She named the character the maid [Camae] after his mother. We all know what happened that day, but[Hall}bringsupwhatmighthavehappenedthenightbefore”[Hall}évoquecequiauraitpusepasserlanuitprécédente[Hall}bringsupwhatmighthavehappenedthenightbefore”
Performance times for “The Mountaintop” are at 7:30 p.m. on February 18, 19, 25, and 26; and 2:30 p.m. on February 20 and 27.
Tickets are $18 ($15 for seniors, students, and military; $10 for groups of 10 or more) and are available weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the box office at 330 788 8739 or by nobody at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, downtown. Tickets are also available at YoungstownPlayhouse.org.
All seats are general admission. Users are required to wear a mask.
Pictured: Tae Stubbs and Tasia Ford in a scene from The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Mountaintop.” (Photo by Wayne Bonner III).
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.