Sadly, we are in the last weekend of our four-weekend run of our partnered production of The Mountaintop written by Katori Hall and directed by Kandace Crystal, starring Caiel Noble and Ashely Graham.
Noble plays the enigmatic, but in this circumstance, anxiety ridden and overworked, Martin Luther King Jr. Graham is the beautiful, flirtatious, chain smoking/hard talking “Camae”, a maid at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. We first meet Camae as she delivers a newspaper, coffee and cigarettes to the iconic King late, the night before his death. Bright eyed and witty, I'd be remiss if I didn’t say Camae’s character steals more than one scene from the grumpy, anxious and possibly philandering character of King.
“Firstly, Kandace made it clear to me that Camae was a representation of the Black American woman,” said Graham, about embodying the role. “She is sensitive, witty, observant, empathetic and persistent.”
Graham also said she drew upon her own experiences as a young Black woman as well as the other Black women she knows and are close to. She also gives a nod to the the production’s Dramaturg team made up of Phil Johnson with The Roustabouts Theatre Co. and Kimberly King with Teenage and Youth Performing Arts Theatre (TYPA).
[They are] perhaps the absolute BEST Dramaturg team I've witnessed,” said Graham. “They each provided so much insight on the culture, cues and tendencies of the 60s. These combinations brought forth Camae for me.”
Noble, conversely, played a less charismatic character in an MLK that may seem a bit different than how our society currently portrays him. As Camae moves about King’s hotel, we note his wandering eyes on her form. We see him dropping to the floor in mortified fear as lightning crashes and smoking Pall Malls one after the other. We see him in a “flawed” light, making him seem more vulnerable, more real.
[He was] a man who carried the weight of the Civil Rights Movement when he was alive,” said Noble. “But a ‘man’ nonetheless.He had the same emotions, the same fears, the same temptations that any other man or woman may experience.”
Noble said he feels the show is able to resonate with so many because we see he was just a man, but did extraordinary things all the same.
“We can all relate, ‘because at the most human level, we are all the same,” he said.
But, Graham’s character is no prim lady, either, as we see her, in one particular scene, take a small bottle of Irish whiskey from her apron, pouring it into King’s coffee to calm his nerves.
“I think that it simply takes a human to play a human,” said Graham. “Both Caiel and I are humans in every way, with goals, challenges, and weaknesses. Therefore, it wasn't too hard for me to come into the project with the understanding that we would both play people with human experiences. I think this show reveals that to be an icon, you have to first be human.”
Both Noble and Graham had to work to get accustomed to rehearsing and executing a play under COVID19 protocol. All rehearsals took place on Zoom until it was time to film the play, which was done in two days.
“I'm going to start off by saying that rehearsals on Zoom were a challenge for myself at first,” said Noble. “I've never had to stretch myself in that way during a rehearsal process.”
Graham also said the process was one of the biggest challenges she ever experienced as a theatre artist.
“The process of blocking, memorizing, and character connection over Zoom was so foreign,” said Graham.
She also felt it was difficult for she and Noble to remain 100% present given the lack of in-person human connection. Which, is the foundation of what theatre is built upon, she says.
But, no matter how difficult the process, she and Noble came together during their two days of filming to create on-stage, filmed, Zoom-rehearsed magic. If you don’t believe me, you can believe the many press reviews which hail the work both for their work. From The San Diego Union-Tribune to entertainment sites like BroadwayWorld San Diego, the two, along with visionary director Kandace Crystal, have San Diego’s critics raving!
“The amount of attention and support this production has gotten is INSANE!!,” said Graham. “It makes me EXTRA grateful for the team(s) that made this production happen.”
Noble expressed similar views, honored that the show resonated with critics as well as audiences.
I knew that there would be eyes on the show, but I didn't know that it was going to resonate as it has,” said Noble.
“Everything just fell into place,” he continued. “From the amazing director Kandace Crystal and her vision, to the chemistry of Ashley and I on stage, to the super talented crew. I feel that every once in a while when you're a part of something special, you just know. This production of The Mountaintop is a testament to that.”
You can still purchase your tickets for Saturday or Sunday at www.themountaintopsd.com.