SFA’s University Series remembers loss of King with ‘The Mountaintop’

LA_The Mountaintop-Baylin copyIn 2018, America and the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The College of Fine Arts and the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University, along with L.A. Theatre Works, will anticipate the anniversary with a touring presentation of the internationally acclaimed play “The Mountaintop,” written by Katori Hall and directed by multiple award-winner Shirley Jo Finney.

The performance is part of the College of Fine Arts’ University Series and will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, in W.M. Turner Auditorium on the SFA campus.

“This play takes us back, not to the idealism of ‘I have a dream,’ but to the contentious racial and class issues, the questions of conflict and social justice that led to Dr. King’s murder, and that still haunt America,” said Scott Shattuck, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and director of the University Series. “It does so in fanciful and even shocking ways that no audience member would anticipate.

“We are grateful to present this controversial play in association with SFA’s Office of Multicultural Affairs under the leadership of Veronica Beavers,” Shattuck continued. “As Black History Month begins, we hope that this performance will stimulate important dialogue among students and other audience members that may not have attended University Series events in the past.”

On the evening of April 4, 1968, less than 24 hours after his famed “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered outside Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In “The Mountaintop,” Hall fantasizes an unexpected conversation inside that room on the night before the assassination.

Recipient of London’s 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play, Hall’s gripping re-imagining of events is “rife with humanity and humor as the great civil rights leader reveals his hopes, regrets and fears to a motel housekeeper that seems inconsequential, at first, to his destiny,” according to Shattuck.

“It was really important for me to show the human side of King,” playwright Hall said. “During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights – economic issues – and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being, like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable.”

“The Mountaintop” stars Gilbert Glenn Brown (CBS TV’s “The Inspectors,” upcoming feature film “The Best of Enemies”) and Karen Malina White (“The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” “Malcolm and Eddie”). The production will travel to 38 cities across the United States. “The Mountaintop” contains mature language and controversial themes.

For three decades, L.A. Theatre Works has been the leading radio theater company in the United States, committed to using innovative technologies to preserve and promote significant works of dramatic literature and bringing live theater into the homes of millions. The company’s public radio series, featuring stage plays performed by America’s top actors augmented by interviews with the artists and others, can be heard on public radio stations across the U.S. The producing director is Susan Albert Loewenberg.

L.A. Theatre Works’ national touring program brings audiences at venues across the country the experience of a “live-in-performance” radio drama. Since 2005, L.A. Theatre Works has visited over 300 civic, performing arts and university venues. They last visited the SFA campus with “Dracula” in 2016.

Prior to the performance, Cleo House, director of the SFA School of Theatre, will present an informative talk at 7 p.m. in Griffith Gallery. The gallery is located across the hall from Turner Auditorium, which is inside the Griffith Fine Arts Building, 2222 Alumni Drive.

Single event ticket prices for the University Series are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for non-SFA students/youth. Tickets for SFA students are $3.

For more information, visit finearts.sfasu.edu, stop by the Fine Arts Box Office in Room 211 of the Griffith Fine Arts Building, or call (936) 468-6407 or (888) 240-ARTS.

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