When internationally recognized Katori Hall came home to Memphis to see her play Hurt Village performed at the Hattiloo Theatre, only a stone's throw from the former site of the titular housing project, she was reminded why she writes.
"The people of Hurt Village deserved their stories to be treated like Shakespeare, as they lived epic lives," Hall says. "Comedy and tragedy were always intertwined." What moved her most was a crowd that included former Hurt Village residents. "Pastor Whalum was there," she says, remembering individuals in the diverse audience. "School teachers. Rich folk, poor folk, old folk, young folk, but most importantly, white folk and black folk. We have a racial divide in Memphis, and in that theater that night the wall was erased."
The Mountaintop, which earned Hall an Olivier Award for best new play when it opened in London in 2010 and which made its American premiere on Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in 2012, is also set in Memphis. It depicts an encounter between a disconcertingly life-sized Martin Luther King Jr. and a maid on the eve of the civil rights leader's assassination.
"Great drama is about human beings clashing onstage and not ideas or myths," Hall says. "The Mountaintop deals with the man and not the myth. It is about this man named King, excavating his internal demons, wrestling with his God, just like Jacob did in the Bible before he goes to Canaan. This is a spiritual trip for King and for the audience. The more people understand that's the kind of ride they are on, the more open they will be to this interpretation of King's last night on earth."
"The Mountaintop" at Circuit Playhouse January 18th-February 10th. for Tickets, go to playhouseonthesquare.org.