Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Memphis to London to Broadway

“The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall opens October 13

September 15, 2011 Katori Hall, a 29-year-old playwright from Memphis, has suddenly found herself not just Broadway-bound but also part of an historic moment for the Great White Way: Hall’s play, The Mountaintop, will be performed during the same season as new work by two other African-American women, Lydia R. Diamond and Suzan-Lori Parks. “I can’t remember the last time there were three women playwrights on Broadway during the same season, let alone three African-American women,” Kenny Leon, director of The Mountaintop, told The New York Times today.

The Mountaintop, according to the play’s website, takes place on April 3, 1968. It’s “a gripping reimagining of events the night before the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. King (Samuel L. Jackson) retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel while a storm rages outside. When a mysterious stranger (Angela Bassett) arrives with some surprising news, King is forced to confront his destiny and his legacy to his people.”

Despite its original subject, Hall’s play follows a familiar trajectory for Broadway, according to the Times: “Although the backgrounds of their authors makes them notable, ‘The Mountaintop’ and ‘Stick Fly’ [by Lydia R. Diamond] come to Broadway via the traditional routes and with some of the familiar assets required to brave the increasingly star-centric Broadway economy. Ms. Hall’s play, which depicts a fictionalized version of the last night in the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., received critical acclaim and the prestigious Olivier Award for best play when it was produced in the West End in London, after moving from a smaller theater.”

Hall became a playwright out of frustrations as an actor: “At Columbia I took an acting course, and my acting partner and I were assigned to do a scene from a play with two young black women,” she told the Times. “We go to the library and start pulling down plays, and eventually gave up. ‘Maybe we can share the role of Tituba in The Crucible?'” she remembers asking. “In that moment I thought, ‘I have to write.'”

The Mountaintop opens October 13.

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