The setting is room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The date is April 3, 1968, and the room’s occupant is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He has just given his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and is alone in his room, having sent his friends out to get some cigarettes. He is visited by Camae, a maid, and the pair strike up a conversation.
Playwright Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” presented by Beaumont Community Players Friday through Feb. 4, offers an intimate glimpse into the conversation, one that gradually lifts the veil of King’s myth to show us the man. It is set on the day before King was assassinated.
Director T.J. Scott said we are normally given a generalized version of King, but there is so much more to him.
“Dr. King has always been almost above mankind,” Scott said. “So, finding out more about his true life, the thoughts in his views beyond the famous speeches, it really touched home to show how much of a man he was, how relatable he was to everyone like you and me.
“This is a peek inside the King that many did not know. Will we still love him?”
Romelo Styles makes his acting debut as King. The two men have different personalities, he said, so he is not trying to do an impression of King, but rather embody his spirit.
“He’s no different than any one of us,” Styles said. “He’s a man that has flaws just like any one of us. And he tries, at least in my eyes, to be the best version of himself as he can be on a regular basis, flaws and all.”
Dena Gray Hughes plays Camae in her BCP debut. She said that as an amateur historian and an African American, she was interested in Hall’s take and the play is a chance to see King outside of the pulpit.
“(Camae) gets a chance to see him in that more human light,” she said.
Hughes is reluctant to talk about her character for fear of spoiling the play but said there is a moment in the play that is particularly meaningful.
“I don’t want to tell you what it is, but there’s a line that I think when people hear it, I hope that line resonates with them, and we recognize that there’s something for all of us to do to make it to a better place,” she said. “There’s a role for all of us. And then what is that role?”
Scott said that despite it being the first show for the actors, they have risen to the challenge.
“It shows with their dedication, their passion,” he said. “They critique themselves far more than I do, and I love it because it shows an undying passion and they’re really getting into these roles.”
Once the production is over, the actors will tour the play to area high schools with two shows at Beaumont ISD and a show in Port Arthur.
“I’m really excited for that the opportunities that the students will get,” Scott said. “We’re going to have a thesis study guide for students so that they can integrate that not only to enjoy the show, but to also gain academic knowledge. (It will) give them an opportunity to research a little more of the history for themselves.
“At the end of the day, we always want you to seek out more knowledge, not just the things that are handed to you, that are spoon fed to you, because there is a wealth of information that goes beyond the common knowledge and the popular sayings by Dr. King.”
Styles, who is the weekend anchor for KFDM Channel 6, said he is looking forward to the school performances.
“I could do just that part and be perfectly fulfilled,” he said. “To me, the kids is my No. 1. When I think about community service and serving the public interest, it’s always the kids that are high on the list.”
“The Mountaintop” is a unique approach to King’s legacy and Scott said viewers will experience a range of emotions throughout the play.
“There are times where you will laugh. There are times that a tear may shed. There are times where you may feel uncomfortable with what you see,” Scott said. “But in the end, I want everyone to leave with a sense of purpose within themselves to look at the show and see within themselves that they have the ability to do great things, just like Dr. King.”
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m., Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28, Feb. 2, 3, 4 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m., Jan. 28.
For tickets, visit beaumonstages.com or call 409-833-4664. BCP is located at 4155 Laurel Ave.
This story first ran in the Jan. 20, 2023 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.