Second cast shows a different side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “The Mountaintop.”
The scene opens on April 3, 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr. is sitting in room #306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., after giving his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He orders coffee and a firecracker maid brings it to his room. What ensues is a conversation about love, politics and life as a whole.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is telling this story, “The Mountaintop,” in the 50th anniversary year of King’s assassination. And thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a new idea by Executive Director Julie Leach, WBTT will offer a free special understudy performance of the play.
Understudies Ariel Blue and Brian Boyd will star in this unique performance Jan. 21, the first of its kind for WBTT. The pair says they’re thankful for the opportunity and they’re excited to show a different, more human King.
“You’re going to see him in a different light,” Boyd, who will play King, says. “He’s just a man like anybody else, no matter how tall we see him.”
Blue, who plays the maid, points out that many people might not know King smoked cigarettes, and that’s just one of the many behind-closed-doors actions that will give audiences a peek into the man behind the iconic civil rights activist.
WBTT only does one play a year, and this brief departure from musicals brought Boyd back to his acting roots at Florida A&M University.
“It was just you and papers in black and white,” he says. “Bring the page to the stage. I love that.”
Blue says the reason she got into acting was to tell stories. And that’s exactly what she gets to do in “The Mountaintop,” along with bringing out a side of herself that she rarely gets to portray on stage.
“The character is so sassy and fiery and funny and witty … I identify with her a lot.”
The actors agree a huge challenge in preparing for this piece is the loose rehearsal schedule. Because they’re understudies, they’re required to learn and go over their lines on their own time, which is hard for Blue, who’s also juggling a full-time job.
The play also takes place without any other characters, so they only have each other to lean on.
“Knowing that you’re going onstage as Martin Luther King Jr. is a big pill to swallow,” Boyd laughs. “But we’re going to bring our A game.”
Blue adds that a motivating factor is the monumental nature of the piece and how meaningful it is to perform in 2018.
Boyd and Blue agree half-jokingly that they’re most excited for the play to be over. Because this is new for the company, Boyd says there’s a great deal of added pressure to have the leads, their director and everyone else watching with high expectations.
“That’s a lot of weight to put on our shoulders,” Boyd says. “As soon as we get to that bow, we know we’ve done it.”
Blue enthusiastically nods in agreement.
“I’m going to squeeze your hand so hard,” she says.