The Asbury Park Theatre Company (APTCo) premiered its latest production, The Mountaintop, an Olivier Award winning Broadway Play, on May 10th at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove.   The Mountaintop is a fictionalized play by American playwright, Katori Hall, which takes place on the eve of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

The entire play takes place in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, where he has returned shortly after giving his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. MLK meets Camae, a beautiful and mysterious hotel chamber maid. The following day, MLK was assassinated on the balcony of his hotel room as he waved to the crowds of supporters below.

Martin Luther King Jr. is played by Kyle Javon Blocker, who portrays both MLK the preacher, and MLK the man. Blocker’s most memorable moments are those when he does battle with his God, “I need more time,” pleading for survival to continue his work in the civil rights movement, minutes before succumbing to the daunting realization, “I’m just a man.” 

The role of Camae, a hard-working black female who guides him towards acceptance of his inevitable death, is also humanizing as the symbolic “angel” there to help him make his transition to heaven.  She brings him coffee and says, “It is black, but I’ve added a little sweetener.”  Natalie Hayes-Scott brings the role of Camae to life.  She is part muse, part femme fatale as she deftly leads MLK into the depths of his soul and humanity. 

Throughout the one-act play, the action is disrupted by a violent thunderstorm, lighting surges and loud claps at intervals foreshadowing the events that will lead to MLK’s untimely death. The weather event is also a Hitchcockian device, the ticking bomb that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, anticipating what they already know is going to happen. Of course, on a deeper level, the metaphysical tension is also building as MLK attempts to negotiate with God for more time in which to pursue his civil rights work.

(L – R): The Mountaintop’s Production Stage Manager Dennis Tolentino, Actors Kyle Javon Blocker and Natalie Hayes-Scott, and show’s director Jarrod Scott. Credit: Asbury Park Theater Company

Katori Hall is a well-respected and renowned Aftican American playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize for her drama, The Hot Wing. The Mountaintop further showcases her talent. She creates a poignant and riveting portrayal of what may have transpired on the eve of his assassination, and she presents a sensitive and heartfelt look at MLK the man, as a strong — yet very vulnerable — human being.

The Mountaintop is currently being presented at the Jersey Shore Arts Center until Sunday May 19.

Brenda Hamlet is a journalist covering trends in the media and arts. Brenda lives in Asbury Park and teaches writing at Kean University. Her contributions will focus on the state of the Arts in Asbury Park.

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