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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “The Mountaintop”

November 2nd, 2011

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents.

Samuel L. Jackson & Angela Bassett. Photo by Joan Marcus.


Hollywood royalty Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett arrive on Broadway in Katori Hall’s Olivier-award winning play about an imagined encounter the night before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (Limited run now extended through January 22.)

“…surprisingly thin new play about a monumental subject…” New York Times

“…the finale offers a fantastic pay-off that ranks among the most exhilarating 10 minutes of the year.” New York Post

“…giddy and insouciant yet strangely weightless fantasy about the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” New York Magazine

“…a bold, uninterrupted 90-minute swing-for-the-fences play…that simultaneously presents King as a real, flawed man — and as a great marker on the road to American equality.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: Can we get one thing out of the way, first? I want whatever skin regime Angela Bassett is on because this fifty plus superstar looks thirty. All right, now I can talk about the show.

Or can I? Not only are there plot twists that require secrecy but the writing feels so idiosyncratic that I am at a loss for how to describe it. Saying the play feels part Tyler Perry comic pleaser and part Tony Kushner fantasia, while punchy sounding, doesn’t get at the unusual nature of the work. I can say that I was amused some, put off some, awed by the ending and never less than fascinated by the singularity of playwright Katori Hall’s voice. I’m not sure this particular production smooths the seams of kitchen sink to surreal genre hopping–if they are meant to be smoothed at all. The Hollywood stars prove to be engaging, stage-worthy actors (Bassett in particular making choices that are as bold as the play and with similarly watchable/odd results.) One thing I can say for certain is that I want to see whatever Hall writes next.

See it if you are a fan of the stars, if you like polarizing works, or if you are interested in stories from an African-American perspective, a voice seldom heard on Broadway.

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