The Mountaintop
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★★★ "Katori Hall (an American who was still in her 20s when this play hit in Britain) has written a play riffing on the end of King's "Mountaintop" speech, a play that asks the question: What if, that night, the great civil rights leader had a premonition of his own death? I'll skip the further details; those are best experienced as a series of surprises. Still, how revealing (or forced) you find that premise will, I think, largely dictate your opinion of a play that was received in sharply different ways on either side of the Atlantic. More about that in a moment. But there's no question that Ron OJ Parson's Court Theatre production, which opened Saturday night, is a superior endeavor, not least because Parson, a fan of thrillers, had the guts to embrace the tense theatricality of Hall's irreverent, even outlandish play. Hall is a young writer and, when you watch her intermittently overwritten play, you can see that immaturity. It's a tad glib and invulnerable. Symbols feel tossed and blended and the anachronisms forced. The writer overreaches. She has not fully decided what she wants to say. Then again, there is that speech. There is the force and sheer theatrical audacity of Hall's writing. And, as time passes, the context of this event must now become part of an ever-expanding cultural frame of reference. In this fine Chicago production from a director who really understands the relationship between tension and truth, "The Mountaintop" is well worth a climb."—Chris Jones