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Play explores human side of Martin Luther King Jr.

"Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today ... the cry is always the same: 'We want to be free.'" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke these powerful words in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968.

It was the last speech the prominent civil rights leader gave before his assassination the next day.

Although his life was senselessly cut short, King's wisdom and unwavering determination for social justice continue to inspire those working to resolve racial inequality that persists 50 years later.

But King had an interesting personal life that is often overshadowed by his activism.

The play "The Mountaintop," coming to MSUM through L.A. Theatre Works, offers a glimpse into the human side of King beyond his brilliant speeches.

"The Mountaintop" is the third event in MSUM's Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series and takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25 at MSUM's Hansen Theatre in the Roland Dille Center for the Arts.

"We decided to bring L.A. Theatre Works here for its production of 'The Mountaintop' because we like bringing artists and groups that push the boundaries of their art form and their subject matter," says Rebecca Sundet-Schoenwald, managing director of the performing arts series at MSUM. "We also wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King's assassination while reminding ourselves and others that although we've made progress in civil rights during the past 50 years, we still have a long ways to go."

Written by Katori Hall and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, "The Mountaintop" fantasizes what could have transpired in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis hours before King's murder. Hall's fictional depiction of events pulls the audience in as King (Gilbert Glenn Brown) opens up about his hopes, regrets and fears to a mysterious woman he perceives as a hotel maid (Karen Malina White).

"It was really important for me to show the human side of King," Hall says. "During this time, he was dealing with the heightened threat of violence, he was tackling issues beyond civil rights — economic issues — and was denouncing the Vietnam War. So I wanted to explore the emotional toll and the stress of that."

Showing a new side of King was important.

"King changed the world, but he was not a deity," she continues. "He was a man, a human being like me and you. So it was important to show him as such: vulnerable."

The play premiered in London in 2009 and later ran on Broadway with Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson in the starring roles.

L.A. Theatre Works began touring "The Mountaintop" on Jan. 12 and will perform it in 38 cities across the United States, including Moorhead.

The program has engaged audiences in more than 300 cities across the country since 2005 as part of its mission to use theatre as a teaching tool.

"The Mountaintop" actors will lead a talk with audience members immediately following the performance.

If You Go

What: "The Mountaintop" by L.A. Theatre Works When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25 Where: Hansen Theatre in MSUM's Roland Dille Center for the Arts, 801 13th St. S., Moorhead

Info: Tickets to the production are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors and $12 for students with ID. For more information, visit www.mnstate.edu/perform or call (218) 477-2271.

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