The Mountaintop- Play Review

We went to see this play in the capital one slushy January afternoon. We were in the building two hours and we came out our faces dirty with dried tears.
We had seen The Mountaintop, an imagining of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night in a Memphis hotel room before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, written by Katori Hall and performed by the Trinity Repertory Company. The play has only two characters: Dr. King, and Camae, a maid, sent by the hotel to deliver his late-night coffee.
After a brief exchange, the two begin a prolonged and eclectic conversation, drifting between different matters of different sizes, from the complications of the present political landscape to whether or not King should shave his mustache. Sometimes, they flirt; other times, they fight. For nearly an hour, Hall lets them talk, carving out her vision of the complicated man and, through Camae, the ethos of the people he is fighting for—juxtaposes battered optimism with nonchalant realism.
As the conversation reaches its climax, Camae reveals herself as an angel, sent to shepherd the civil rights leader away to heaven. In denial at first, King quickly turns to his unfinished work, and to his family. He resolves to ask God for more time; after a heated exchange over the hotel telephone, she (yes, she) refuses, but offers to show him the future.
King accepts.
Then, the motel room disintegrates, and Camae launches into a final speech, covering the fate of King’s cause up to the play’s premier, backed by images and video clips appearing on different surfaces around the hall—her final words: ‘Black presidents’. After marveling, King delivers a final rhetoric, asking us, imploring us to carry on his work.
So ends the play. Heroic. Bold. Moving.
But between Camae’s Speech and King’s final address, as if something has broken or become corrupted (we are not sure if this is a stage direction or the director’s choice), the images continue past “black presidents” on to the present day.
Then King makes his speech, issues his call to action, and then the play ends.
The Mountaintop premiered in 2009. June 2009 to be precise–the peak of the post-‘08 high and the precipice of all that has led to our present moment.
The play derives its title from King’s final speech, where, prophetically, he warns that he might not live to see his work to completion; at the same time, however, he reassures his audience that their goal will be achieved eventually: God has allowed him to “go up to the mountaintop”, from which he has seen “the promised land”.
No doubt, when the play was first performed, the actors, the director, maybe even the playwright thought the country had arrived or were about to arrive in this “Canaan”. That last speech likely assumed an almost vestigial role: just make sure to keep building the buttresses under the upward-soaring arc.
But those were not the words we heard on January 18th, 2017.
Works of art mean different things to different people at different times. Though a text or score may persist unchanged, the interpretations and the very meanings we find in them vary infinitely—arise from within our momentary selves.


By Trent Babington


Butterfield’s Koffee Haus: A Revival

For as long as it has been around, the Central Residential Area has been home to many of the most creative and artistic students at UMass. Van Meter and Butterfield are two of the biggest residential halls that are focused on housing students interested in the Humanities and Fine Arts subjects, and they provide a number of ways for students to express their skills. In an attempt to encourage students to create a lively community where they can share their talents with others, Butterfield Hall has organized Koffee Haus- a café night of creative expressions.

Inspired by the original energy that this residential hall was founded on, Alex Phillips, a faculty-in- residence in Butterfield, created Koffee Haus as a way of reviving the social and creative environment  that Butterfield once had. According to Phillips, Butterfield was the quintessential home for all liberal arts students in the early 1970s. The residential hall was a community in which acoustic guitars echoed throughout the halls and everyone shared their visual and musical talents with one another.Butterfield in the 70s

This was also a period with a lot of drug experimenting, and students began taking hallucinogens in their dorms and tripping inside the residential halls. Phillips claimed that, “students were lighting clipboards on fire and destroying the boards in the hallways.” After these incidents, Butterfield began cracking down and getting more serious about community guidelines. For while after this, Butterfield lost its artistic flair and students no longer had this same kind of open environment to share their talents in.

However, Phillips decided to change this by putting together Butterfield’s Koffee Haus nights. Run by residents in Van Meter in Butterfield, Koffee Haus is an open mic night where students are free to perform songs, poems, stand-up comedy, or present artwork or written pieces of any sort. All talents are welcome. In the two years that it has been established, Phillips has seen the success of this event grow exponentially. In the first Koffee Haus of this semester, over 100 students attended and the entire night was filled with entertainment of every kind. Koffee Haus will host 2-3 events on selected Thursdays each semester, and all are encouraged to attend. Whether you have a song waiting to be performed or you simply have a love for coffee and snacks, Koffee Haus welcomes you with open arms.

-Sabrina Taylor