The Mountaintop, by young American playwright, Katori Hall, is The Performance Network’s new production. In the play, Hall imagines what events and conversations might have taken place in Martin Luther King’s room in Memphis’s Lorraine Motel on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. The play opened in London in 2009 and won an Olivier Best New Play Award, before moving to Broadway in 2011. David Wolber, the Artistic Director of The Performance Network, and Jen Pan, an intern there who will serve as assistant stage manager for the production, talked with Current about the play.
Current: London seems an unusual place to debut a play about Martin Luther King.
Wolber: I’m fascinated by how many plays are doing that now. There’s more and more lately. There’s Red, for example, written by an American, John Logan, about American painter Mark Rothko. Logan has another play that he’s now starting in London. It’s becoming a bit of a trend, and maybe it just speaks to Britain looking to some new voices from America. I keep an eye out for what’s going on over there to see if I can keep a little ahead of the curve.
Current: I was in Memphis a number of years ago and visited the Lorraine Motel; it has been converted to a museum about Dr. King. Visitors can go into the room he stayed in that night. Will you try to re-create that room on your stage?
Pan: We’ve been staring at reference photos of the actual hotel room, and saying “OK, let’s see if we can find that.” For example, there’s a spray bottle in one of those pictures and we’re trying to find one that’s exactly the same type as we see in those black and white photos, we’re trying to match it as best as we can.
Current: Many of us still remember that awful day when MLK was murdered 35 years ago. What can this play tell us?
Wolber: Katori Hall has a great ear for dialog and a fresh new perspective here on an American icon. Everybody knows Martin Luther King Jr. the icon, a lot of people know his speeches and really look up to him, and this is a way of looking at the end of his life and trying to come to terms with him as a legend and as a man — trying to bridge that gap. She’s even said that her intention in writing this play was to try to look at somebody like that, who we all look at and say, “Well I could never do those amazing things.” And try to find a bridge so that people start to think, “Maybe I’m not this amazing, iconic person, but I can do some amazing things too, perhaps.” It’s trying to look at MLK as a human being and getting a sense of what he was trying to accomplish.
The Mountaintop runs from April 25 to June 2. $27-36. Various times. Performance Network Theatre. 120 East Huron St. For more details call 734-663-0681, or visit www.performancenetwork.org.