Amid a thunderous rainstorm in a small pink motel room, a baritone voice swoons a charismatic young housemaid tasked with great responsibility.
Anxious banter and constant tobacco smoke give way to an uncomfortable sexual tension—drawing these two strangers dangerously closer and closer despite the man being a married man of faith.
The larger-than-life Letitia Brookes plays housemaid Camae to Pastor King, played by Tristan D. Lalla, in this raw Black Theatre Workshop performance, The Mountaintop.
“The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While peppering him with questions, Camae finds herself forced to comfort this man whose fame, bravado and gravitas are stripped away as he reveals himself as insecure, fragile and even sexist at times through a nervous series of intimate confessions.
It is no simple task for a cheap motel room—devoid of any real glamour or gravity—to capture an audience’s attention for 90 straight minutes with no intermission. But The Mountaintop did just that.
Equal parts ironic and infuriating, Ms. Brookes casually informed me that although this play was intended as “a call to task” (according to playwright Katori Hall), it’s cast and crew have witnessed old white folks walking out long before their final curtain call. While some of the language in this script could come across as jarring to some, the obvious historical realities pointing to police brutality, poverty, and race-based violence withstood by North American black communities throughout the civil rights movement don’t always sit well with audiences.
Contemporary movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the push to end race-based carding practices and police violence in black communities have certainly stoked fires. This explains why, though this play has collected critical acclaim from the vast majority of its audiences, it has also faced some harsh criticism.
But is that not precisely the point?
I can think of no better way to mark Black History Month (see: confront ongoing systems of power and privilege) than to take some time out to catch The Mountaintop during this it’s final weekend on Ottawa’s GCTC stage. It might make you uncomfortable. Do it anyway.
The Mountaintop continues at the Great Canadian Theatre Company (1233 Wellington St W) until February 10th. Tickets are available online from $38.