The Mountaintop cast rehearsing this one-act show about a fictionalized conversation between Martin Luther King Jr. and a maid at the Lorraine Motel. | Photo by Ruta Smith

Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and monumental fight for civil rights in America in the 1960s is well-documented. In playwright Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, a fictionalized conversation between King and a maid at the Lorraine Motel explores the man behind the legacy.

New York City-based actors J. Jerome Rogers and Crystin Gilmore join guest director Gary Dewitt Marshall for The Mountaintop at Queen Street Playhouse. The play opens Friday with shows at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. throughout the month.

Rogers said it has been a “rewarding challenge” to play the late legend King. 

“People have an idea of what we think Dr. King was like. So then, really delving into trying to make him as human as possible, and showing the man behind the myth, that has actually been a lot of fun. It’s challenging, but rewarding and definitely an honor,” Rogers said. 

In the play, the night before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. returns to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis after having delivered his last impassioned speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” A mysterious maid named Camae delivers his room service, though she seems to have more on her agenda than a simple meal.  

There is a deep connection to Memphis, the setting of The Mountaintop, which makes this play especially exciting for everyone involved, said artistic director, Kyle Barnette. The playwright Hall is from Memphis, as are the two principal actors, Rogers and Gilmore.

Rogers said it is “surreal” to find himself on a set that replicates the Lorraine Motel room where King spent his final hours. 

“I’ve been to the National Civil Rights museum a number of times,” he said. “They have the room on display through a window, and so to actually be in, now, essentially, the room where he spent his last few hours, it is a bit surreal.”

He also said that he is enjoying the chance to work with Gilmore, who he has worked with in the past and considers a good friend. 

“We have an established relationship outside of this play, which I think enhances our ability to play these roles. We’re not afraid of each other, so it deepens the level of intimacy that I think is required to play these roles.”

Gilmore’s character, Camae, functions as a mirror to Roger’s King.

“My character, Camae, is a potty-mouth angel,” Gilmore said. “She has done everything that the world would deem inappropriate. I’m a fan of this script because it shows that you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ to get into heaven.

“Camae’s job is to prepare King for his tomorrow, which is his death. Camae is feisty, she has a swift tongue, she curses worse than a sailor with the clap — those are her words,” Gilmore said, laughing. “But she is also very motherly. She hits on all of Martin’s weaknesses — she smokes, she drinks, she curses … and so she is basically a mirror of Martin, that he almost judges, and then he sees himself [in her].”

Rogers agreed, “Our characters are mirrors of each other. Martin Luther King is up on this pedestal, but he, like all of us, had his flaws, and those things are reflected through Camae. Sometimes we have to be shown our flaws in order for us to get a better understanding of our humanity.”

Gilmore said, “I hope viewers walk away [with the lesson not to] put themselves or others on a pedestal. I hope they judge themselves and others less … Look for the heart and soul versus a person’s mistakes. And realize that when you point one finger, there’s three pointing back at you.”

Rogers said his hope is that viewers walk away with the realization that there is “perfection in our imperfection.”

“We’re all trying to be the best humans that we can be,” he said. “The play is called The Mountaintop, meaning, we are all struggling to get to that precipice, whatever it may be. We’re all struggling to get there, and the struggle is part of the reward.”

The Mountaintop opens Feb. 10 at
Queen Street Playhouse. Purchase tickets at or by calling the box office at (843) 722-4487. 

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