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Modern Moses

The last hours of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Karen Malina White costars in LATW’s The Mountaintop. Photo courtesy of Lucy Pollak Public Relations

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Half a century ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was launching his "Poor People's Campaign" for economic equality. "The issue is injustice," he told the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968. After recounting past struggles, he predicted, "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop." He was alluding, of course, to the biblical Moses, who led his people to Mount Nebo but couldn't follow them into the Promised Land. That allusion was tragically prescient. The next evening, as King stood on his balcony outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, a single, fatal, .30-06 bullet ricocheted from his cheek down his spinal cord. An hour later King was dead, never to see his 40th birthday.

Memphis playwright Katori Hall wrote her 2009 play The Mountaintop, a sleeper hit in initial United Kingdom runs, about hypothetical events transpiring between speech and shot. King encounters a flirtatious hotel maid, Camae, who engages with King on matters public and private. When the play reached New York in 2011, it starred Angela Bassett and, in his Broadway debut, Samuel L. Jackson. Now it's touring the country as a production of L.A. Theatre Works (, an outfit that presents audio-drama versions of new and classic plays each week on National Public Radio. Playing this Saturday at Broadway Center, the show stars Gilbert Glenn Brown (The Inspectors) as Dr. King and Karen Malina White (Veep) as Camae.

In contrast to LATW's usual reader's-theater-style productions, says director Shirley Jo Finney, "To give the audience a wider experience, they decided to mix the mediums. So you're actually seeing the actors ... with script memorized ... This particular show will have multimedia. I'm having projections, and ... you'll have six mics on stage that represent different areas of the motel room." Live cameras follow the actors from mic to mic. "We'll have close-ups at moments that are very strategic," Finney explains.

"In some respects," she adds, "50 years ago, our country made a major transformation in people's civil rights ... Some of those civil rights are in a very fragile position now, but the people are rallying again. People are realizing again the importance of those principles."

The Mountaintop, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $19-$69, 253.591.5890,

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