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Performance of The Mountaintop to be held in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | JANUARY 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Few people will fail to recognize this quotation, spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

While this is his most famous speech, King delivered countless others in his life. His last is titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Just one day before his assassination, King gave this speech on April 3, 1968, in Memphis.

Playwright Katori Hall wondered what King did after giving this speech, his final night on Earth. Iowa City residents will be able to see her take on his final day at 7 p.m. Saturday in the University Theater Mabie Theater’s production of Hall’s The Mountaintop. A panel discussion will follow will with members of the UI faculty.

Morris Hill, who will play King in the production, believes the personal side of the civil-rights icon that is revealed is essential to the drama.

“I hope that the show will open people’s eyes up to what Dr. King was like when he wasn’t in the spotlight,” he said. “I want them to have an idea of what he was thinking, his strengths, his weaknesses, his fears, and just what life was like for him when the doors were closed. I think a lot of people, myself included, only thought of him leading a march, sermonizing from the pulpit, or giving a speech and never humanized him.”

Director Tlaloc Rivas agrees.

“As playwright Katori Hall points out, The Mountaintop is about Martin Luther King Jr. the man,” Rivas said. “It’s not biography, and it strives neither to glorify nor to demonize him. Here, he is not just a figure of legend; he is a husband, father, leader, and man who could inspire many and yet doubt himself.”

Delving into King’s inner mind is a powerful role for Hill to undertake. However, he believes he is up to the challenge.

“I have played Dr. King in a couple of productions before, recited the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in several venues, and just knew I had to play this role as well,” he said. “I’m the type of person who likes to see good in everyone, have fun, and just live freely and peacefully. I love what Dr. King was about, and there’s this energy that I feel when playing him that is so empowering and refreshing, and I feel it aligns me with his mind in so many ways, not to say that we are even close to one in the same but definitely on the same page.”

The drama shows a very personal side of King, an imagined side not seen by the public. Hall also wrote her personal stories into the script.

The panel, immediately following the show, will conduct an interactive discussion of King, his life, his work, and his legacy. There is no specific theme, but Rivas says the panel will likely discuss how King’s dream evolved and how civil-rights issues continue in today’s society. 

“It’s special because this year is the 50th anniversary of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial,” Rivas said. “We’re tying that speech to King’s ‘Mountaintop’ speech with a panel discussion that explores his rhetoric, poetry, and the journey depicted in his words.”

The production, Rivas said, will prompt people to question what they know about King and prompt discussion, making the panel the perfect tool.

“With The Mountaintop, I hope that people will take away that behind the mythos of Dr. King, there was man who was battling his own demons,” he said. “Behind closed doors, there were moments of quiet doubt, of exhaustion — or of laughter and humor. We’ve all been there at one point, and I believe the play draws an empathetic portrait of him that goes beyond his martyrdom.”

More King celebration events will take place this weekend including a march, poetry readings, religious services, and lectures; they can be found at mlk.uiowa.edu/events.


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