We really had no idea! Very close to curtain time on the brutally cold evening of January 24th the door at Philadelphia's Suzanne Roberts (located on our proud Avenue of the Arts) closest to the coat-check was opened for us my husband, me, and others. Because of this we were able to avoid the main entrance, quickly check our coats, hats and scarves and settle in for “The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s Olivier-winning, original rendition of the last night of Martin Luther King’s life at age 39 in Room 306 of the now famous Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
The evening we arrived at the theatre was brutally cold. We thought the different door opening was to help us out of the cold quickly. Perhaps it was, but only partly.
For irony followed. When seated we saw that most in the sparse audience were holding handouts given to them at the main entrance of the theatre by the stagehands and picketers of IATSE, local 8. The handout, passed on to unknowing us by a fellow theatre goer, explained that the PTC’s stagehands had been working without a contract for over six months, and the only thing they were asking for was “modest health care” and a “raise of twenty-five cents.” Quoting Dr. King, who had been in Memphis to support the AFSME Memphis Sanitation Strike, where he spoke the day before he died, the paper read, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford a hamburger.”
The distributed page also explained that “the work you will see tonight is merely a staged-reading under work-lights” and suggested that theatre goers demand “half priced tickets” as FTC was presenting “half of a show.”
I had never before crossed a picket line, and my husband, a doctor, had only crossed one once, when there was a strike at his hospital, and an ill patient needed his care. I would have left, but as we realized what was going on and the audience grew in size, Sara Garonzik, PTC’s devoted and enormously talented Artistic Dirctor, appeared to assure the audience that the company was working diligently to solve union problems. She then introduced actor,Yvette Ganier, extreme house right, who would read stage directions in place, and who did as fine a job as possible, along with the actor's total investment, to compensate for the lack of key theatrical effects and recorded sound cues. And the play, which will run until February 17th, began…..
Many know that in the 2011 New York production of “The Mountaintop,” Samuel L. Jackson played Dr. King and the sassy, provocative and puzzling motel maid, Camae, in this two person play was to be played by Halle Berry, who because of child custody issues was unable to appear. The role was then given to Angela Bassett. In Philadelphia Dr. King was played by the talented Sekou Laidlow, who gave his all and then some. And the mysterious Camae was played by the equally talented Amirah Vann.