Nightly News   |  October 12, 2011

New Broadway play imagines MLK’s last night

Taking place on April 3, 1968, The Mountaintop is a new play on Broadway that reimagines the events of the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just after delivering one of his most memorable speeches. NBC’s Chris Jansing reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

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 .