How can a play about a revered historical figure that allegedly received wild acclaim in London turn out to be so bad?
“The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s 90-minute, two-character drama, depicts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. Samuel L. Jackson, in his Broadway debut, plays King alongside Angela Bassett. (Halle Berry was originally expected to co-star.)
The play begins with King, right after his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, entering Room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. After checking for bugging devices, he orders some coffee from room service.
Soon Camie, a chatty and attractive chambermaid, arrives at the door. Clearly a fan, she gushes over King’s work with a nervous but giddy air.
King, obviously attracted to her, uses her as a sounding board, while Camie shares her own thoughts on civil rights. Their flirtation continues until some suspicions are aroused.
The show’s production team has asked reviewers not to reveal any plot twists (i.e., the maid’s real identity), but let’s just say it’s a supernatural revelation that turns what had previously been a mediocre biodrama into a ridiculous embarrassment.
Jackson convincingly highlights King’s smoothness as well as his insecurities.
If not much else, “The Mountaintop” leaves its audience hungry for a more substantial play about King — one, for instance, without a phone conversation with God ... don’t ask.
If you go: “The Mountaintop” plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through Jan 15., 242 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, themountaintopplay.com.