The Matrix Theatre Company honors Black History Month with the Los Angelespremiere of The Mountaintop, directed by Obie Award-winner Roger Guenveur Smith and starring Larry Bates and Danielle Moné Truitt. Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award, Katori Hall’s gripping and often humorous re-imagining of events the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. takes on new meaning with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Mountaintop opens at the Matrix Theatre on February 6, with previews beginning January 28.
What thoughts and emotions might have pulsed through the mind and heart of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968, his last night alive? In The Mountaintop, an exhausted Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis after delivering his magnificent “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
“It was really important for me to show the human side of King,” noted Hall in an interview. ”During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights – economic issues – and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable.”
“As a post-civil-rights baby, I’m very cognizant of the great responsibility that has been passed down to me, but I can also look through the lens of history in a different way,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “It allows me to be a little more clinical, more honest, sometimes a little irreverent while treating the subject matter with utmost respect.”
The Mountaintopreceived its world premiere in London at Theatre 503 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in the West End, where it won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play. The 2011 Broadway production starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.
“It’s a different America now, and this play takes on new meaning today,” says Smith, who directed Bates and Truitt in a previous production at San Diego Rep. “Before this, we didn’t have such a focus on violence. ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not a phrase. We didn’t have this film called ‘Selma’ that has placed Martin Luther King into the public consciousness once again.”
In 2009, following more than three decades of producing multiple award-winning work for the stage, Matrix Theatre Company founder/artistic director Joseph Stern resolved to redirect the company’s focus to the exploration of race issues in contemporary society.
“Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean there isn’t great marginalization going on interracially,”
Since then, the Matrix has offered up critically acclaimed productions of Lydia Diamond’s Stick Fly, set in the Martha’s Vineyard summer home of an upper middle class African American family; Neighbors,Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’
Set design for The Mountaintop is by John Iacovelli; lighting design by José López; sound design and projections are by Marc Anthony Thompson; the production stage manager is Jennifer Palumbo; and Joseph Stern produces.
The Mountaintop opens on Feb. 6 and continues through April 10, with previews taking place Jan. 28 through Feb. 5. Performances are scheduled Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm; and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark March 7 and March 21). On Sunday, April 3 (the anniversary of the night prior to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr , when the play takes place) and Monday, April 4 (the anniversary of the assassination)