Nightly News | October 12, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Here in New York tomorrow night at curtain time, a kind of tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the form of a new Broadway play , "The Mountaintop." It's already won critical acclaim and awards for its writer, a young woman who wasn't even born until after Dr. King's death. But thanks to her mother, he was always a part of her life story and her dream. Our report tonight from NBC 's Chris Jansing .
CHRIS JANSING reporting: Memphis , bright lights, Beale Street and music. But you can't talk about the city's history or Katori Hall 's history without talking about what happened at the Lorraine Motel , room 306.
Unidentified Reporter: Martin Luther King , Jr. was killed tonight in Memphis , Tennessee .
JANSING: Hall grew up hearing about the great Dr. King at her grandmother's knee.
Ms. KATORI HALL: She, still to this day, in the living room has two paintings on the wall and one is of Jesus and one is of Dr. King.
JANSING: She learned, too, that her mother, just 15 then, desperately wanted to hear Dr. King speak at the Mason temple in April 1968 , but wasn't allowed to go. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr .: But it doesn't really matter with me now because I've been to the mountaintop.
Ms. CARRIE MAE HALL (Katori's Mother): That's one of the biggest regrets in my life, that I did not hear Martin Luther King deliver that speech that night.
JANSING: So Katori Hall , now a promising young playwright, would weave Dr. King's story into her own. In "The Mountaintop" Samuel L. Jackson portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , not as martyr but man, drinking, swearing, vulnerable.
Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON: He was a man who was not as optimistic about the movement as everyone would have us think.
JANSING: Also in that motel room, a mysterious maid played by Angela Bassett and named for Hall 's mother, Camae , finally bringing her, at least on stage, face to face with Dr. King.
Ms. ANGELA BASSETT: I saw just the beauty of his humanity in it.
JANSING: Hall became the first black woman ever to win Best New Play honors in London . And now she's about to take on New York . So how's it feel to be on Broadway ?
Ms. HALL: I don't know yet because it's crazy. I'm going through so many emotions.
JANSING: It was perhaps a crazy idea to take an icon and elevate him even more to bring him back down to earth.
Ms. HALL: He kind of existed as a ghost as I was growing up. I feel as thought the play attempts to make him alive and in the room with us.
JANSING: In doing that, Katori Hall has grabbed a piece of the dream that Dr. King and her mother imagined all those years ago . Chris Jansing , NBC News, New York .