Get Thee to the Kitchen!
Ithaca has its own little Off Broadway theatre, the intimate space at the Kitchen Theatre, has just entered its 25th season. This is indeed a landmark anniversary for any theater. Let alone a small, cutting edge, non-profit such as the Kitchen. The quality matches anything, anywhere: one certainly imagines they are in the theater district of New York when sitting in the ‘Kitchen.’
Following up the season opener, Buyer & Cellar, the 25th anniversary season has continued with a powerhouse – The Mountaintop. My, oh my, what a powerhouse. Imagine if you will a fantasy rendition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night in a room at the Lorraine Motel before his assignation the following morning in Memphis. Playwright Katori Hall has said that she wanted to make the myth a bit more real than her memory of a statue. She felt that by taking King off his pedestal, people “will realize he is for regular people”. In my humble opinion, that is an understatement of what she accomplished in this two character drama.
Using the historical facts as they are known, she offers up the mythical man in his flesh, powerfully portrayed by Landon G. Woodson, immersed in a range of emotions. We witness recurring fears and suspicion, cynicism, temptation, sentimentality, pragmatism, flirtation, humor, appreciation, extreme nervousness and stress, even hints of addiction (to cigarettes). The initial range of human reactions that we experience of the man is triggered by events and known dangers.
The genius of the play, however, is in the form of the second character – a hotel maid named Camae who provides us with insight to the nature of the population in the year 1968. She is alternately downright hilarious and judgmental, calling King on various misconceptions and hinting at hypocrisy, though never self-righteous. She flirts and liberates, serving as a temptress and truth teller. The best surprise of the plot will be withheld in this piece, since I do not want to destroy its essence for the next viewer. Camae, played by Angel Moore, is riveting, almost magical in stark contrast to this human version of King. The interaction between the two is powerful and the evening left me breathless.
The Mountaintop runs through October 25. Direction is by Nicole A. Watson, Scenic Design by Frank Oliva, Lighting by Nik Robalino, Costume Design by Lisa Boquist, and Sound Design by Lesley Greene. Many other talented staff contributed to this production. Give yourself the gift of experiencing the Kitchen while in town. It is one of Ithaca’s precious commodities.
The Kitchen Theater is located at 417 W. Martin Luther King Jr/State Street Ithaca, NY 14850. www.kitchentheatre.org. 607-272-0403