By Patrick Pacheco, Special to the Los Angeles Times
There are two portraits prominently displayed in the Memphis, Tenn., living room of Emma “Big Mama” Leake, the grandmother of Katori Hall. One is of Jesus, the other of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hall says it was King’s portrait that haunted her.
“I didn’t want him to be on the wall,” says the 30-year-old playwright. “I wanted him to be flesh and blood to me and to others.”
Her play “The Mountaintop,” which opens Thursday on Broadway, directed by Kenny Leon, is the result of that ambition. And indeed, her King, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is all too human in a drama that unfolds on April 3, 1968 — the night before the civil rights leader was assassinated — in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. When the play opens, King has just returned from a speaking engagement, hungering for coffee, a pack of Pall Malls and relief from a full bladder and the burden of being “Dr. Martin Luther King.” A welcome distraction comes in the form of Camae, a maid played by Angela Bassett, who delivers the coffee — and a lot more.
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