The Lorraine Motel 1968
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his renowned “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” King said, foreshadowing his imminent assassination. He had received many death threats, yet he said in that speech “I’m not fearing any man.”
The play, The Mountaintop, currently on stage at the Grand Theatre, tells the fictionalized account of what happened in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel where King was staying. The next day, he was killed, at age 39, standing on the balcony of the motel.
A two-hander, this play is about the interaction between two characters: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Camae, a motel chambermaid, who brings him his cup of coffee and shares her cigarettes with him. E. B. Smith has brilliantly captured the essence of King, and while he starts out exhausted, coughing, and disappointed in the turn-out for his speech, he soon smiles and grows playful with Camae, partaking of a drink from her flask and then laughing through a pillow fight. Beryl Bain has created an interesting Camae, sassy and a bit mysterious. We wonder right away if she is an evil temptress or an angel of deliverance.
But just as we are enjoying this unusual relationship developing between two very different people, the plot takes a turn. Without spoiling the ending, I can only say it feels too contrived. We expect King, a man of God, to talk to the Lord in prayer, but it just seems too much when he speaks to God on the telephone. However, it’s nice to know God’s female.
The set is excellent. We see the outside of the infamous Lorraine Motel, where the shooting is about to take place. Then the set rotates and we are in the motel room, complete with the typical two beds, wood panelling, and sixties décor.
The play concludes with a montage of events that have occurred around in the world since that sad day in 1968, projected on the sets and taking the audience on a journey. A series of black and white photos and videos covering news events from the Vietnam War to 9-11 clearly state that we have yet to reach the Promised Land.
Despite the supernatural, artificial conclusion to the King-Camae relationship, it is very much a play worth seeing. We need to be reminded how far Martin Luther King brought the cause, and how much more work needs to be done in terms of non-violent change and obtaining peace.