ALBANY, N.Y. -- Dr. Martin Luther King’s rendezvous with destiny came on the evening of April 4, 1968 -- 6:01 p.m., to be precise -- when he was assassinated while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
In Katori Hall’s "The Mountaintop," which is being given a frenetic, cursory reading at Capital Repertory Theatre, the last act of King’s life begins 18 hours earlier, at midnight, on a rain-soaked thunder-filled evening inside that motel room.
King enters his room wound up. He yells outside to his aide and friend, The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, to get him a pack of Pall Malls.
It is late. King has delivered his now famous "I have been to the mountaintop" speech to a smaller-than-hoped-for Memphis church gathering during the sanitation workers’ strike.
As played by Brandon Jones, King is a man in perpetual motion, as wound up as he may be worn down, skittering about his room in staccatolike motion. He pauses to tweak a sermon he is preparing for the next day.
"Why America is going to Hell," he grumbles, quoting from his sermon as he goes into the bathroom to urinate. "America, you are too arrogant."
Tough, forward, confrontational.
"What shall I say? What shall I say," he asks himself frustratedly.
Badly in need of coffee, he calls room service. In not too long a time, a sassy, plain-spoken chambermaid named Camae (Liz Morgan) arrives bearing a pot of coffee. She winds up staying for what begins as idle conversation, banter, but which develops over the course of the evening into a discussion that will lead King to confront the issues of his life; indeed, life itself, his own mortality.
Camae is the product of a hard-knock life. Newly employed at the Lorraine, this job represents a turning point, a profound change in her fortunes. Camae deals with King for the man he is, the human being. He looms lifesize, no bigger and, in Jones’ hands, often less, teetering on simplistic archetype rather than full-blooded, nuance-enriched human being. It’s a performance style that, together with Morgan’s equally perfunctory one-note Camae, deprives "The Mountaintop" of the scant opportunities it has; its aura; the nuances and undercurrents that fuel the play’s magical realism.
This "Mountaintop" is, at best, a plateau; a workmanlike journey through a flat, open landscape that bears neither distinguishing features nor landmarks worth noting or remembering.