Black Arts Performance Explores Black Rights in “The Mountaintop”

Indignant and commanding, Makenna Marshall ’18, playing Carrie May, a guardian angel disguised as a hotel employee, stands up to Michael Codrington ’18, playing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Grabbing his jacket and jumping onto his bed, Marshall then screams out to the audience, proclaiming that they should be independent from “the white man” and take control of their own lives.

This speech was a pivotal moment in “The Mountaintop,” a play written by Katori Hall. A stage reading of “The Mountaintop” was organized by the African-Latino-American Society (Af-Lat-Am) in the Theatre Classroom last Friday night as a part of programming for Black History Month.

“[The stage reading] was showing another side to Dr. King’s politics which are often understood as being very pacifist and very wanting to make peace with everyone which was a large part of his rhetoric, but I thought that was an interesting way of showing how he was at some moments in his life and how other black activists responded to what was going on at the time,” said Zoe Sottile ’17, an audience member.

“The Mountaintop” tells the story of Dr. King in his hotel room the day before he’s assassinated on April 4, 1968. After flirting with Marshall who allegedly works for the hotel, Codrington accuses her of being a spy. Marshall then admits that she’s actually an angel from Heaven and has come to prepare him for death.

“I liked the scene where [Marshall] reveals that she’s an angel because I thought that I didn’t see it coming, and it’s cool to have an actual reveal like that in a play where you have no idea what’s going to happen,” said Sottile.

After much regret, despair, anguish, and a phone call from God, who was a black woman, Dr. King finally accepts his death. He cries as Carrie May assures him of the future impact of his civil rights movement, telling him that his efforts ultimately lead to a black person becoming president of the United States.

“The end is powerful when you sat there watching Dr. King crying. The whole show is a really powerful show talking about how people are human. I just love that we get to do this stuff and the Producers get to facilitate shows like this, shows about important social justice topics,” said Hannah Berkowitz ’17, lighting designer for the stage reading and a DramaLab producer.

According to Codrington, rehearsal time for the play was limited, and none of them were fully prepared going into rehearsal. This, however, allowed for more spontaneous decisions during the performance.

“We found out we were doing this on short notice, and by the time we had opened house, we had never actually read through the entire script because it’s pretty long. We kind of had to play off each other in the moment, and it was like discovering the play for the first time along with the audience too, which was interesting,” said Codrington.