Caribbean Community Theater will open its 34th season Friday with a one-weekend production of “The Mountaintop,” a two-person re-imagination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the night before he died.
“The Mountaintop,” by award-winning playwright Katori Hall will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18 and 19, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.
Sayeeda Carter directs the two-actor cast of Lionel C. Downer and Diana Prince. It takes place on April 3, 1968 in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Downer returns to the stage as Dr. King and Prince is the Lorraine Motel maid. Both veteran actors give stunning performances in a fictional twist of the historic event.
Downer has performed in and/or directed numerous CCT productions on island including “Raisin in the Sun,” “Fences” and “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” He also performed in a staged reading of award-winning Levy Lee Simon’s “For the Love of Freedom,” a story of Haiti’s struggle for independence.
Prince said she is dedicated to finding new ways of expression, which turned up in her portrayal of a Liberian rebel fighter in “Eclipsed” and as a social worker in “Alabama Sky,” both previous CCT productions.
Director Carter has worked with teenagers as a speech and drama coach in the junior high and high schools, on the mainland and here on St. Croix. Her most recent work with CCT was in their Calico Cats production in December. Working with teens and younger children allows a different approach to direction, she said.
“We use games and activities to get the kids ready,” she said.
“The Mountaintop” is Carter’s directorial debut with a CCT production. When asked about this “first” for her, she replied, “I like the intimacy of a small cast. It’s my first time working with only two characters.”
Carter was having a casual conversation with CCT Manager Eileen Des Jardins when she mentioned having seen “The Mountaintop” in New York. Carter’s knowledge of the play was the motivation for Des Jardins to offer her chance to direct. Des Jardins found the play several years ago, and although CCT’s script-reading committee liked it, the play had not been scheduled. Carter accepted and came on board as director.
Downer has been delighted to play the role of Dr. King and said he is honored to do it. Playwright Katori Hall developed Dr. King into someone very human, Downer said, peeling back layers to expose King’s fear of mortality.
Prince, like Downer, is very passionate about her role in “The Mountaintop.” This was 1968, yet there is a feminist persona to the character of Camae, which comes as a surprise in that era, Price noted.
Downer agrees that Camae makes a vivid impression, an impact on King. She holds her own in conversation with him and her sassiness captivates him, he said.
At the time of his death, King was becoming a revolutionary, Carter said.
“He had begun to speak about poverty, not just race. He talked about little brown babies being killed as he addressed the presence and the horrors of the Vietnam War.”
Carter said the most basic lesson she learned in directing the show can be summed up in this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Carter feels the connection between arts, history and youth development is the niche in which she can stand to improve conditions in the territory. With co-author Regina Keels, she has written a radio drama, “Silence Speaks, Secrets Revealed” that is being aired on several stations for the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix.
“The Mountaintop” premiered in London in 2009 and won the best new play award at the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2010. Hall was the first black woman in history to win the award. “The Mountaintop” opened on Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in the cast.
Tickets are $20 for adults with discounts for seniors, students and CCT members, and can be purchased at the CCT box office prior to each show. The box office opens 45 minutes before curtain. Due to adult language and mature content, the play is not recommended for children younger than 16.
All performances will be held at the Caribbean Community Theater, No. 18 Estate Orange Grove in Christiansted.
CCT productions are jointly supported by a grant from the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and co-sponsored by Christiansted Apothecary Hall. Carl & Marti Gotts, JKC Communications of the VI, Marshall & Sterling Insurance, and Team Consultants.
More information about the theater is available online at the CCT website www.cct.vi, by calling 340-778-1983 or 340-718-4229, or sending email to [email protected]