The Basement Theatre, Auckland, NZ
October 31st – November 11th, 2017
Reviewed by FAGA TUIGAMALA (FANG)
Determined to make waves not only on stage but in the community, Pasifika theatre movement F.C.C formed and went on to become much more than a group of performers, writers, producers, and directors. They became a beacon of diversity in the New Zealand performing arts community, paving the path for other Pasifika artists to develop and take on profound roles.
Their latest production, The Mountaintop, delighted audiences at the Basement Theatre from October 31st to November 11th. Originally written by African-American playwright Katori Hall, The Mountaintop is a fictional account of Martin Luther King’s last night on earth, before his tragic assassination. For the first time ever, the critically acclaimed play was performed in New Zealand, under the direction of Fasitua Amosa and with Pasifika actors in the leading roles!
This made it all the more enthralling in the lead-up to the much-anticipated production! Just moments before the actors took to the stage, the Basement Theatre was abuzz with excited whispers. And then, the lights dimmed and Sam Cooke’s, A Change is Gonna Come, silenced the eager audience.
Portrayed by Dave Fane, Dr. King, from the very first scene is shown as the polar opposite of his public image. Rather than the polished and poised civil rights leader we have all come to know, we see a frustrated, exhausted and relatable King – one who furiously rehearses his speeches yet is appalled by the smell of his own feet. Fane, with his engaging stage presence and bold delivery, effortlessly captures the essence of the late, great leader – as well as his notorious Southern drawl. As he paces around his simple yet immaculate motel room, he is joined by the feisty Camae, portrayed by Nicole Whippy. Whippy is absolutely captivating as the Lorraine Motel maid. She is loud, animated, vibrant and most of all, unapologetic.
The rest of the play explores the relationship between the two contrasting characters. From pillow fights to smoking cigarettes, to revealing their bleakest, most intimate secrets, the two exceptionally portrayed characters had the audience reacting in all sorts of ways. With just two actors, a thought-provoking script and Amosa’s phenomenal direction, the audience was transported into another world and in another time – a racially divided America in 1968.
The Mountaintop was a brilliant production which made the audience think beyond the script. The strong performances by Fane and Whippy left a unique imprint in the minds of those in attendance. Though much of it is laced in humor, solemn moments in the play left the audience pondering much darker issues such as racism, discrimination, and inequality. In this day and age, which has seen the rise and normalisation of racist groups and hate speech, the themes of The Mountaintop remain extremely relevant.
How far has society come? Has much changed since 1968?
These are the kinds of questions and conversations which the play ignites. If anything, this play urges us to not be complacent as there is still so much to do when it comes to eliminating discrimination in society. It also makes us ponder on how New Zealand is holding up.
It is so easy to identify the problems in other nations but what about here in our own backyard?
How are minorities being treated in New Zealand? What more can we do?
The less refined side of Dr. King shown in the play is a reminder that you do not need to be perfect to make a difference. Take the bubbly Camae for instance – though she wasn’t the most elegant, she was certainly bursting with revolutionary ideas and ambitious to make a change in her community.
The moral of the story? We can all do something. And we all should do something.
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