Rosebud Theatre’s Mountaintop portrays human side of Martin Luther King Jr.
by Laureen F. Guenther
“The Mountaintop is a fictional account by Katori Hall, an American black playwright, about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night on earth,” says Ray Strachan, the Winnipeg-based actor who’s playing the role of King.
“It’s a two-person play and the other character, Camae, who works at the motel, kind of takes King on a psychological and spiritual journey over the course of the play.”
Camae, a motel maid who has “a bit of an angelic feel”, is played by Patricia Cerra of Edmonton.
“We get to see a more human side of Martin Luther King, rather than what we usually see in videos and archives,” Strachan says. “What he had to deal with and the amount of pressure he was under as a leader.”
The Mountaintop is set in the LaRaine Motel in Memphis, where King spent his final night in 1968, and where he was assassinated on the hotel room balcony. Though the play is fiction, it includes other historically accurate details, Strachan says, such as that it snowed that evening, an uncommon occurrence in Memphis, and aspects of King’s famous Mountaintop speech.
Since Strachan was a child, reading about historic leaders and the values they portray, he says he’s been drawn to the character of Martin Luther King. “I guess being a black child and seeing this black figure and learning about what he does, at a young age.”
When the Human Rights Museum opened in Winnipeg, Strachan portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. at a gala event. And as soon as he became familiar with the script of The Mountaintop, Strachan wanted to perform the key role.
“(This play) allows people to see the human side of Martin Luther King and see what he actually had to deal with, and what he was going through, and how scared he was, and how psychologically damaged he was from the civil rights movement,” Strachan says. “He wasn’t a leader for a long time, but he took a lot on his shoulders. I was really attracted to portray that side of Martin Luther King.”
“As an actor … no matter how historic or how iconic the figure is, you try to find those human connections that you share with the character. … He has to deal with things like a human, his flaws.”
“As great a leader as they are, they are human when it comes to the end of the day, and they have wishes and they have dreams. … They all have things that they sacrifice for the good of the people.”
Strachan says the play doesn’t focus on race, but when we look at Martin Luther King’s story, we can’t get away from racism.
“You do see what (racism) does to a person of color, what that does to them as a human being,” he says. “You see the hurt and you see the damage, what it can be. … You have a shared feeling of being dehumanized, not feeling wanted, not feeling loved … that you’re a bit less than.”
“(The Mountaintop) is a beautifully told story,” he says, “about an iconic figure where we get to see him struggle with the movement and what he’s going through and what is expected of him. He goes through a bit of a struggle with his spirituality as well. … In the end, his spirituality gave him strength to go on.”
The Mountaintop plays in Rosebud Theatre’s Opera House, September 13 to October 19. Tickets, which include a buffet meal, are available at rosebudtheatre.com or 1-800-267-7553.