A play with a cast of only two characters: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Camae, a “maid” (more later on why that is in quotes). Set in a little motel room, the play chronicles a fictional night of interactions between Camae and Dr. King in the hours leading up to his death. The two stay up long into the night: flirting, smoking, drinking, talking, arguing… hoping… crying…
The first half or so of the play is devoted to a re-humanizing of Dr. King. While still acknowledging his important work, someone as idolized as King can often become constructed in a way that makes him seem so much different from all of the rest of us. This idealization can stand in our way of being able to fully identify with him and grow from his lessons. Hall’s King is a good man, with his own problems, and he seems worn down. He spends some time reflecting on the conflicts he has with his followers, his team, his family, with other leaders in the movement and, most interestingly, with himself.
Told in excellent rhythm, building tension, releasing, tension, release. Over and over again, Hall writes a play that is exciting at every turn. I especially enjoyed when the brazen Camae proves that women can give speeches just as powerful as men, as she steps into Dr. King’s shoes (literally), puts on his blazer, and delivers her own passionate address. Later on, King figures it out, this “maid” is something a little more than human. He is told about his death and has a few hours to think before passing away, during which he will go through all the stages: denial, bargaining, depression.
Hall always brings it back to how King, despite dying too early, played such a large part in inspiring others to join the civil rights movement. A recurring motif of life and civil rights as a relay race, Hall calls out for the audience to think, “I can do this too!” Using the words “the baton passes on” in an explosive final scene adds to this sentiment:
The Prince of Peace. Shot.
His blood stains the concrete outside Room 306.
A worker wipes away the blood but not before
Jesse baptizes his hands on the balcony
The baton passes on
More and more images of the American experience consume the walls as the world begins to disintegrate right before their very eyes
Cities burning Vietnam burning
Coffins coming home
Another Kennedy killed
The baton passes on
A brilliant work on not only Dr. King himself, but on the role of having a community of people working towards the same goal. I see Hall as using the end scene as a call to action; Dr. King was only human, and he did it, so now it is our turn to pick up the baton. I highly recommend reading this script or seeing a performance!
Katori Hall is a playwright/performer from Memphis, TN. Hall’s plays include: The Mountaintop (2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play), which recently ran on Broadway at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre starring Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Her awards include the Lark Play Development Center Playwrights of New York (PONY) Fellowship, the ARENA Stage American Voices New Play Residency, the Kate Neal Kinley Fellowship, two Lecomte du Nouy Prizes from Lincoln Center, the Fellowship of Southern Writers Bryan Family Award in Drama, a NYFA Fellowship, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Playwriting Award. For more on Katori Hall, visit her website at http://katorihall.com/