Everyone has a last night on earth. What if you knew about yours as it was happening? And what if you had a lifetime of work still ahead of you that you didn’t want to let go of?
That is what a fictional Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. experiences in “The Mountaintop,” a play by Katori Hall about how King spent his last night in a hotel room in Memphis. With just the hotel maid for company — and a surprise twist or two — King grapples with the knowledge of his impending death.
The two-person play will be performed for free at 6 p.m., Jan. 21 at the Lyric Theater, capping off a day of city-wide Martin Luther King Jr., Day events.
The play also marks a new tradition for Message Theater, one begun last MLK Jr. Day with the company’s production of “The Meeting,” a fictionalized encounter between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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Organizers say making the show free is important to removing barriers to experiencing the show’s message.
“It’s important because of the message and the holiday,” says Whit Whitaker who plays King in “The Mountaintop” in addition to directing it. Whitaker, who also played King in last year’s “The Meeting”
“I think this is the Lyric and Message Theater’s way of providing quality theater to the community not only in celebration of Dr. King but just in celebrating black art and also giving people an opportunity to appreciate that art and give people a good message in a family-friendly environment without having to worry about the burden of buying a ticket,” says LeTicia Preacely, who plays Camae, the hotel maid who quickly befriends King and helps him face his mortality.
Unlike Whitaker’s character of King, Preacely’s Camae is a purely fictional character who is more than meets the eye.
“Without giving away the twist, Camae is a maid and she’s there to serve Dr. King so it seems, but develops this great relationship and this bond with him,” says Preacely.
“She’s fun and feisty, she’s flirtatious, but she’s also very gentle and nurturing,” says Preacely. “It’s a really great visual to have of what this night might have looked like and the kind of thoughts that might have been running through his head and the way in which one might have comforted him in preparing for his transition.”
That transition isn’t always smooth as King struggles to accept his approaching fate, a struggle Whitaker says we can all relate to, but that the play keenly highlights.
“There’s a really nice moment at the very end that really sums it up when she says, ‘it’s time,’ ” says Whitaker. “But he fights it, like we all do.”
“We think we have all this time left and we can do all these things then when you realize you only have so much time you go ‘oh my god I haven’t done this, I haven’t done this, I have all this to do’,” says Whitaker.
“He wants to do another march. He wants to see his people to the promised land. He wants to see justice,” says Whitaker. “But Camae tells him you know, your time has come and you’ve done all you can do. One thing she always says is it’s time to pass the baton on.”
If you go
What: A fictional depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination in 1968.
When: 6 p.m., Jan. 21
Where: The Lyric Theater, 300 E. Third St.
Other free MLK Day events
- Martin Luther King Jr., Day Freedom March. 10 a.m., Jan. 21. Lexington Center, Heritage Hall. Participants should line up beginning at 9 a.m. inside the corridor of downtown Lexington Center, Heritage Hall on West Main Street.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Celebration Commemorative Program. Actor, poet, singer, composer, and author Daniel Beaty will deliver the keynote address at 11 a.m., Jan. 21 in Heritage Hall at Lexington Center on the theme of “Transforming Our Pain to Power.” The musical group, Zeb Harrison and the Sounds of Praise will also perform.
- The movie “Loving” will be shown at 2:30 p.m. at the Kentucky Theater, 214 East Main Street, courtesy of One World Films. “Loving” tells the story of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who were jailed and banished from their home in Virginia.