In cold blood
Sacramento, CA 95816
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy remains one of the most vivid examples of a person who preached nonviolence—only to be murdered. Along with fellow peace-loving martyrs (think the big J and Mohandas), he became a symbol for the hatred that must be experienced before change can happen for a people.
Capital Stage presents Katori Hall’s play about MLK’s final night on Earth in The Mountaintop, directed by Anthony D’Juan, where the civil-rights leader battles himself and fate as a beautiful angel ushers him into the special light. Beethovan Oden takes on the part of King and depicts him majestically, as ZZ Moor plays the cussin’, drinkin’ angel Camae. Both have moments of extreme passion, something the script offers well.
The dingy Memphis, Tenn., motel room outside of which an escaped convict will assassinate King serves as the set, and stage designer Jonathan Williams’ work here is minimal, serving its purpose well. Oden grapples with King’s more human desires vs. the ones we’ve all read in the history books. The impressive changes from the “I need some coffee” King to the “I have a dream” King work well to show a more realistic side of the historical giant. Moor has to fight to keep up with Oden at times, and with only the two of them onstage, it makes for occasionally jarring moments. However, she has a vivacity that is a treat to watch and makes those moments forgettable.
The story is a strange amalgam made from something like an Edward Albee version of Touched by an Angel and The Last Temptation of Christ. King is told he will be killed in the name of his cause, and that he should accept this fate as being part of a larger divine plan. He resists, but ultimately understands his place and accepts his death with ethereal dignity. In fact, that’s where the play falls flat. It seems to set out to say that King would have been scared to accept his inevitable death. But in doing so, it casts him as a cog in a divine plan, when in reality he was murdered in cold blood by a hatemonger, just as many peaceful martyrs before him.
To say it is part of a divine plan, however, is only an attempt to soften the blow and almost seems to undermine what happened as a result of his death. God didn’t have Martin Luther King Jr. killed; James Earl Ray murdered him.