Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (2011) depicts Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night alive. The play, conjecturing what may have been King’s final thoughts, reservations, desires, and fears, consists of a conversation between King and an enigmatic maid named Camae who we learn, midway through the play, is actually an angel of death. Part Wilsonian mystical realism and part Suzan-Lori Parks history play, Hall domesticates a larger-than-life figure to recalibrate the movement he personifies. I argue here that the play calls forth the conventions of a history play in order to intervene in the civil rights historiography that foregrounds King as an exemplary civil rights activist instead of a figure like Camae, a cursing, drinking former prostitute. In doing so, the play participates in a refashioning of the history play that Parks exemplifies, in which she deforms historical figures in order to reform her audience’s relationship to the past. Hall’s play contemplates the ways we know King in order to call our attention to the civil rights movement as an ongoing endeavor whose past, present, and future continues to be under necessary revision, reexamination, and production. Moreover, the play’s depiction of King in relation to Camae foregrounds the women who helped to produce the movement and the ways we, as audience members, perpetuate and contribute to civil rights history.
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Research Article| April 01 2013
Soyica Diggs Colbert; Black Leadership at the Crossroads: Unfixing Martin Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2013; 112 (2): 261–283. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2020199
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