In more ways than one, that sentiment haunts "The Mountaintop," Katori Hall's provocative, fanciful play about King's final hours in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel.
Since its modest Broadway run in 2011, the play has picked up steam. Several productions are slated around the country this season, including a satisfying one currently on the boards at Center Stage with a terrific cast.
It is easy to quibble with Hall's concept, especially the turn in the plot that the press has been asked not to discuss, for the benefit of unsuspecting audiences.
Even before that point, however, ....
The language (including the 'N' word), the smoking and, after a decidedly saucy maid name Camae answers his room service call, the flirting -- they all take a layer off the varnish on the martyred civil rights leader. Of course, we all know that King was, like the rest of us, imperfect, but some of Hall's methods to drive that point home can seem forced.
Speaking of forced, there are anachronistic, even deconstructionist turns along the way, including an effort to make King sound like an advocate for gay rights. I'm not sure that fits smoothly with the history of those days, when a remarkable figure early in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin, was marginalized for being gay.
Sometimes, though, Hall's use of hindsight pays off nicely. The mere mention of the name Jesse, as in Jackson, gets interesting laughs. And, in the play's closing moments, a look at the view King did not live to see from his last mountaintop has undeniable force.
In the end, Hall's most remarkable achievement may be the way she reveals the unvarnished King to be such an extremely engaging man.
He's capable of humor and caprice (OK, the pillow fight scene may be a step too far). He's incisive and sensitive. Asked by the maid to name one thing blacks and white have in common, he responds: "We scared, Camae. We all scared. Scared of each other. Scared of ourselves."
He is aware of his limitations, and even more painfully aware of his the potential he wants to fulfill.
The Center Stage production gains considerably from Shawn Hamilton's portrayal of King. He's an arresting presence from the first moments -- pacing the room, checking the phone for bugging, trying out a few lines from a new next speech, flinching at the sound of thunderclaps.
The actor does not lay on a thick impersonation, but lets his ability to conjure the Reverend sneak up on you. When Hamilton finally lets loose with oratory, the sound and cadence of his delivery have an uncanny ring.
Myxolydia Tyler jumps into the role of Camae with hips blazing and deep-fried Southern accent drippin'. The sexy banter and sexier moves recall Flip Wilson's Geraldine character a little too often, but Tyler ultimately wins you over.
Camae's irreverently funny side is a key element in the play, and Tyler makes it register. But as the maid reveals her back story -- "I'm betta at cleanin' up other folks' messes than my own," Camae admits -- the actress is just as keenly attentive to tone and nuance.
Kwame Kwei-Armah directs the staging with a steady hand, attentive to mood and momentum. Neil Patel's spot-on set is evocatively lit by Scott Zielinski.
"The Mountaintop" is not the last word on King, but it makes a thoughtful, daring attempt to wrestle with his personality, his death, his legacy.
The only difference between the saint and the sinner, Oscar Wilde observed, is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Hall's ability to illuminate both sides of that coin makes for intriguing theater.
The production runs through Feb. 24.
Long before the hit 1996 movie "Shine" got a wider audience interested in it, this concerto was firmly established in the repertoire as one of last and greatest outpourings of Romanticism, not to mention one heck of a test for even the cockiest pianist's technical prowess.
The ultimate challenge here is to unleash the often bittersweet lyricism of the score in such a convincing and involving way that listeners find themselves swept away, no matter how many times they've heard the piece -- or how resistant they may normally be to heart-on-sleeve emotions in music.
Consider me freshly swept. What Ohlsson did ...
When Rachmaninoff subsequently called for power in that first movement, Ohlsson unleashed torrents of it -- thunderous chords and slicing octaves that somehow never turned into a clanging assault. And when the principal theme returned for its final airing, the pianist shaded it in an even more introspective fashion, producing a haunting effect.
In the mercurial second movement, Ohlsson again balanced huge bursts of velocity with poetic, nuanced phrasing. The finale, which features Rachmaninoff's signature device of gradually developing tension until a passionately soaring theme can reach its boiling point, inspired Ohlsson to yet another height.
His combination of fearless technique, tonal variety and expressive underlining was matched to a great degree by the BSO, with conductor Marin Alsop at the helm. In the end, the performance added up to something perhaps best described as aural sex.
The all-Rachmaninoff program opened with less familiar fare, "The Isle of the Dead," an orchestra work composed the same year (1909) as the concerto. Inspired by a once-popular painting of that name by Arnold Bocklin, the piece is one of many that
Rachmaninoff infused with references to the ancient Latin funereal chant, "Dies Irae." This is sober, darkly beautiful music that deserves to be better known. Alsop shaped it sensitively and drew some eloquent playing that is likely to get even more so in Sunday's repeat performance.
The concert also includes Respighi's rarely encountered orchestrations of five of Rachmaninoff's "Etudes-tableaux" for solo piano. Never mind that Rachmaninoff should have done his own orchestrating. Respighi was a master colorist, and these pieces are luxuriant and atmospheric.
Placing the Etudes right after "Isle of the Dead" was not ideal -- the first of those Etudes has much the same pacing, orchestral palette and "Dies Irae" thread. Alsop did not always dig deep into the music, and the orchestra did not sound entirely settled, especially in the "Marche funebre."
Still, there was plenty to savor, including gorgeous vibrancy from the strings and some visceral playing by the brass.
The piano concerto will be discussed and performed at an "Off the Cuff" program at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Meyerhoff. The complete program will be performed there at 3 p.m. Sunday.
As the company is quick to point out, "There's no pretending that reading about these desperate, often grisly crimes will bring back any of the victims, but it does bring a little perspective to what is clearly an epidemic."
A panel discussion with Ditkoff and others follows the reading, which will be held at Single Carrot's temporary home at the former Everyman Theatre location at 1714 N. Charles. Free admission.
The Union happens to have an anthem that derives from the much-loved finale to Beethoven's noble, stirring Ninth Symphony, with its message of, well, the joy of brotherhood.
How better, then, to underline the advantage of the UK remaining in the harmonious association of nations than a performance of that anthem by the eminent British baritone "Robert Bennington," even if he has a wee bit of trouble with the words:
On the boards at the new Everyman Theatre is his magnum opus, "August: Osage County," which won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play in 2008. That year also saw the premiere of his next stage work, "Superior Donuts," which is getting a workout from Fells Point Corner Theatre.
With its Eugene O'Neill-worthy length and pileup of issues tearing at an Oklahoma family, "August" stands as one of the most inspired, arresting new plays in years. "Donuts," a mix of comedy and drama set in a gritty Chicago neighborhood, is obviously not the superior work.
Still, there's considerable craftsmanship here. Letts peoples his play with distinctive characters who reveal enough surprising traits and emotions to keep things interesting.
You could say this is a kinder, gentler sort of "American Buffalo." There's a run-down doughnut shop instead of the junk shop in the David Mamet classic, and a similarly hapless owner who comes to rely on a young neighborhood guy with his own problems. Dreams of a better life, and intrusions of reality and violence, figure in both pieces.
But Letts allows sunshine to penetrate the grimy blinds on the front door. At heart, his work is about ...
Although it did not enjoy a hearty run on Broadway, the piece has understandably attracted the attention of regional and community theaters around the country. It's a good fit for Fells Point Corner Theatre.
Richard Dean Stover's direction is mostly steady (greater momentum would be especially welcome in Act 2), and the action plays out on a nicely atmospheric set designed by Jennifer Raddatz.
As Arthur Przybyszewski, a pushing-60 former draft dodger who halfheartedly carries on his parents' doughnut business, Phil Gallagher effectively conveys the character's social awkwardness, frustrations and cynicism (Arthur defines the essence of Polish character as "hopelessness -- wakes are proof").
The actor also manages to put a convincing spin on the play's somewhat creaky device of break-the-fourth-wall addresses to the audience.
Christopher Jones does a winning job as Franco Wicks, the college dropout who has been writing -- what else? -- the next "great American novel" and, meanwhile, has decided he is just the person to turn Arthur's shop around. He's ready to turn the scruffy Arthur around as well, noting that the only ones "who look good in pony tails are girls and ponies."
Of course, Franco has a problem, and, of course, that will eventually dominate the play. Jones handles the shift in emphasis and tone as persuasively as he does the initial mix of bravado and charm.
The interracial and intergenerational relationship between Arthur and the Franco gives "Superior Donuts" much of its emotional weight, and Letts largely avoids cliche in examining the way the two men gradually bond.
The playwright also adds some fresh touches to the others who pop in and out of the shop, even when they do so in sitcom-worthy fashion.
William Walker reveals nuance as Officer Bailey, the cop with a Trekkie fetish. Lynda McClary likewise does a smooth job as Officer Osteen, who is just lonely enough to see potential in Arthur.
There are colorful contributions from Natalia Chavez Leimkuhler as the savvy bag lady; Jeff Murray, as the Russian super-entrepreneur on the block; and Robert Scott Hitcho, as a loan shark.
Really good doughnuts are awfully hard to find these days, but a play about them can be filling enough.
The production runs through Feb. 10.
While the Baltimore Symphony was offering its audiences a multimedia experience with the 1938 Eisenstein/Prokofiev classic "Alexander Nevsky," Concert Artists of Baltimore incorporated contemporary "photochoreography" into a program of lush 20th century music.
For the opening and closing works of the Concert Artists event Saturday night at the Gordon Center, the orchestra was flanked by a stage-length, three-panel panoramic screen where expertly composed photographs by James Westwater, a pioneer in bringing orchestral and photographic products together, were projected in tight sync with the music-making.
Barber's famous "Adagio for Strings" was matched with ...
The technical level of the visuals was admirable (a mussed lighting cue at the end of the Barber piece caused minor damage), and the atmospheric effect in the darkened hall held rewards.
Edward Polochick led a sensitively shaped account of the Adagio; a few frayed edges aside, the strings responded smoothly.
Ably supported by conductor and ensemble, Concertmaster Jose Miguel Cueto delivered the subtle violin solo in the "Lark" with remarkably poise, tonal sweetness and tender phrasing, finishing off stage to create a kind of voice-calling-in-the-wilderness effect.
The non-visual portion of the concert included a warmhearted account of Copland's "Appalachian Spring" that ebbed and flowed tellingly under Polochick's careful, ever-expressive guidance. The woodwinds soloists did particularly shining work.
Baritone James Dobson, a longtime member of the Concert Artists chorus, brought a fine sense of style, if uneven vocal resources, to a selection of Copland's "Old American Songs." The lengthy program also had room for a colorful suite from Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances."
PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTWATERARTS.COM
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has a cinematic theme woven through its programming this season, is offering a potent multimedia presentation of the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein masterwork "Alexander Nevsky" this weekend. A Charlie Chaplin movie and the 1950s musical "West Side Story" are due later on, in each case with the orchestra providing a live soundtrack as the film is shown on a large screen hanging above the stage.
"Nevsky" makes a particularly strong candidate for this sort of approach, given that it boasts a stirring, brilliantly atmospheric score by Sergei Prokofiev. The composer's concert suite from that score is frequently encountered; hearing the original version in context is a terrific experience.
The BSO offered a memorable "Nevsky" in this format a decade ago with then-music director Yuri Temirkanov on the podium. His successor, Marin Alsop, is on the podium this time. She ...
Alsop is quite the pro at this sort of project. Her precision with cues ensured effortless syncing with the imagery. And what extraordinary imagery it is.
A thinly disguised salute to Stalin, the movie celebrates the 13th-century Russian hero who defeated an invasion by Germany's Teutonic Knights. Given the growing threat of another German invasion at the time filming was done, Eisenstein's depiction of the supremely confident Nevsky could not help but prove popular at home -- until that little matter of the short-lived Stalin-Hitler pact.
(Seeing "Alexander Nevsky" takes on added impact today, when another Russian ruler seems intent on developing a personality cult and pumping up national pride.) If Nikolai Cherkasov, as Nevsky, is terribly stiff and preening, his performance has the stamp of authority. The actor, after all, was a Communist Party big shot who sat on the Supreme Soviet.
The propagandistic nature of the movie is never far from the surface, but Eisenstein knew how to turn blatant messages into art, sometimes chilling art. The depictions of German atrocities, right down to tossing babies into a fire, are masterfully filmed and remain tough to watch, especially considering that the world of 1938 wasn't really so advanced over that of the 1200s (see Nanking, Rape of).
Just the thick Teutonic helmets alone, with their tiny eye-slits, have a spooky power, which the film director exploits cannily throughout. Same for the sight of the ruthless churchmen presiding over the German forces -- Prokofiev creates a menacing twist on Gregorian chant to give them a musical motive.
The Battle on the Ice, Nevsky's brilliant tactical move to defeat the heavily armored Germans, generates both a cinematic and musical tour de force.
This passage, which takes up nearly half of the film and seems to involves a zillion extras, is all the more visually intriguing considering that it was filmed in the summertime, with a concoction of asphalt, glass and sand to suggests ice and snow.
Prokofiev produced highly pictorial material to go with the battle, but, tellingly, there are several minutes when the music stops, leaving only sounds of combat to create an awful percussion.
It was satisfying to hear the BSO deliver the complete score so vividly Friday night. The brass and winds served up the ominous bad-guy music with great tonal weight, aided by the tight percussion section. The strings produced a rich palette of tone colors and achieved great poignancy in the mournful, post-battle scene.
That scene inspired Prokofiev's most haunting music, with a mezzo-soprano intoning a song called "On the Field of the Dead." Standing in a balcony above the orchestra, Irina Tchistjakova delivered that solo superbly, each line sculpted with an affecting warmth.
Prokofiev wrote a major role for chorus in the film score, a role handled with admirable poise, tonal richness and vibrant phrasing by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. The effect of the chorus and orchestra at full throttle in the closing moments of the film proved particularly impressive.
One technical note. Seems to me that the screen at Meyerhoff could have been better positioned to allow people sitting near the front to see the movie more easily.
Also seems to me that, by now, some audio whiz somewhere should be able to enhance the sound of dialogue and combat on the original soundtrack. As it is now (and was in 2003 when the BSO presented "Nevsky"), there is a glaring, disorienting discrepancy between the visceral impact when the orchestra is firing away and the tiny, tinny audio level of film.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BSO
As a public service, I devote this Midweek Madness installment to ... the classic, ahead-of-their-time humorists Bob and Ray, who demonstrate just how badly awry an interview can go. (You'll still learn something about Komodo dragons, though.)
By now, 60 long years after Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" opened in London, the whodunit is more of a fixture than a stage show.
It apparently cannot ever be stopped on that side of The Pond, where it has surpassed the 25,000th performance mark and still holds firmly onto the record as the world's longest-running play.
On our shores, the work never became such an institution, but it still continues to attract attention now and then, particularly from community theater groups.
One of them, the Vagabond Players, has a production running now that finds decent mileage still left in this juicy little murder mystery set in a country guest house where coincidence and cunning collide one snowy night.
Those who have never seen "The Mousetrap" -- and have not peeked on the Web to learn the final plot twist -- should have the best time. But even those in the know will likely find enough to enjoy.
The Vagabond staging is ...
Giles' other half, Molly (Ann Turiano), is not just new to the hotel trade, but still relatively new to marriage, meaning there just might be a secret or two she has yet to uncover about her husband -- and one or two he might want to know about her.
Molly has good reason to worry that the first guests at Monkswell Manor may be unpleasant or odd. The blizzard blows quite an assortment of colorful characters into the lodge, all potential suspects once it becomes clear that something murderous has entered with them.
Part of what keeps "The Mousetrap" snappy is that mix of humanity, starting with the foppish, impossibly named Christopher Wren (Brian M. Kehoe), who says he's an architect.
He's just the tip of an iceberg that soon reveals the stuffy Mrs. Boyle; a retired military officer, the reserved Major Metcalf; a mannish woman named Miss Casewell; an unexpected foreigner, Mr. Paravacini; and the inevitable policeman, Det. Sgt. Trotter.
The plot, which has its roots in an ugly, real-life crime reported from the English countryside in 1945, holds up well, if you don't spend too much time analyzing it -- and, as with so much mystery fiction, if you don't mind a maze of improbable interconnections.
The Vagabonds throw themselves eagerly into the proceedings, bringing with them generally persuasive accents that help put the finishing touch on the cutely evocative set.
Turiano makes a charming, sensitive Molly, conveying the young woman's nervous delight in the inn-keeping adventure and her subsequent realization that all's not well. Turiano and Stein also generate some nice chemistry, as much with little romantic sparks as with growing anxiety.
Kehoe is quite a chirpy Wren, nervously flouncing about the place, flashing his loud tartan socks as he goes. If the actor gets a little too close to going over the top now and then, he certainly gives the production a welcome electric charge.
Mrs. Boyle seems to be the prototype for the perpetually unsatisfied guest on a great "Fawlty Towers" episode, the lady expecting a much more exciting room than a humble establishment could ever provide. Nona Porter has fun with the role, especially articulating the character's annoying snobbery ("The lower classes have no idea of their responsibilities").
April Rejman impresses as Miss Casewell, especially in the second act, when the truth melts the young woman's rigid exterior. Adam Bloedorn proves to be another asset in a wiry, vibrant turn as Trotter.
As Paravacini, Richard McGraw could use more nuance (and an accent that doesn't sound like he comes from a little known Swedish region of Italy). David Morey gets the job done neatly as Metcalf. If "The Mousetrap" creaks or drags a little, it can still deliver the kick expected of a vintage Christie mystery, which the Vagabond staging reconfirms.
The production runs through Feb. 3.
PHOTO BY FERD MAINOLFI
Seems that "Diner," a collaboration between Levinson and Sheryl Crow, who has written the songs for the show, needs more time to be developed and, especially, to raise money for its $9.5 million budget.
The musical percolated in workshop form in New York last fall, a process adversely affected by ...
In a statement released Monday, Zeiger said:
"We presented a four week fully-staged workshop of 'Diner' in New York last November at which we received positive feedback from investors and theater owners. We are excited about our progress and it has become very clear the direction in which we need to continue to take this new American musical. Early fall dates work better for all involved and an announcement of Broadway theater and dates will be forthcoming."
The show was originally scheduled for a pre-Broadway run in San Francisco starting last in October, but that tryout was scrapped in favor of the New York workshop, which was intended to allow a smooth transition into a spring opening.
"InstantEncore made launching a mobile app seem effortless."