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Samuel L. Jackson in 'The Mountaintop': What did critics think?

October 14, 2011 |  2:45 pm


"The Mountaintop," the new play by Katori Hall starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, opened this week at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York following an acclaimed run in London. Expectations for the drama -- a speculative work about the last day in the life of Martin Luther King Jr. -- are high. The celebrity casting has added a media-frenzy element to the equation.

Jackson plays the civil-rights leader, who has retired to his motel room in Memphis. In the course of an evening, he comes in contact with a chambermaid named Camae (Bassett). Directed by Kenny Leon, the play is an ambiguous two-hander that features a surprise revelation.

When "The Mountaintop" ran in London, it was the unexpected winner of the 2010 Olivier Award for best play. The drama was produced at the Trafalgar Studios 1, and starred David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs. For the New York transfer, producers sought to cast Halle Berry in the role of the maid, but the actress withdrew from the project earlier this year and was replaced by Bassett.

What did critics think of "The Mountaintop" on Broadway?

Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that the play "might have worked better in a smaller, lower-profile production. Its charms are those of an ingenious sketch."  As King, Jackson "turns out to be a natural onstage, and he gives a lucid and likable performance." Bassett has a "vibrant and assured stage presence," but her performance "only accentuates the [play's] cuteness quotient."

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum called the play's ideas "provocative, mature, sometimes even dark." Jackson is a good deal older than King was when he died, but he gives the character "a glint of steel and sexual power that works in tandem with his visitor's little provocations."

Toby Zinman of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the play lives up to the hype and has exceeded all expectations. "Jackson has captured King’s rhythms... [and] Bassett, talking with a thick accent and doing motel-maid sexy rather than diva sexy, is sensational."

The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy described the drama as "audacious as it is inventive." Bassett's character arc "is a wonder to behold and she delivers one of her best performances." 

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter wrote that the play features "bold writing" that requires actors with authority, "and Kenny Leon’s supple production has them in Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett."


Katori Hall reaches for the divine — and Broadway

Angela Bassett's new Broadway gig causes reshuffling at Pasadena Playhouse

Halle Berry exits Broadway's 'The Mountaintop,' but Samuel L. Jackson is still in

-- David Ng

Photo: Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in "The Mountaintop" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York. Credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press