David Alan Anderson and Lisa Beasley in 'The Mountaintop'
Right on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech—which took place on August 28, 1963—comes Court Theatre's production of Katori Hall's Olivier Award-winning two-person drama, "The Mountaintop," which portrays the 39-year-old Civil Rights leader on the eve of his 1968 assassination in Memphis. In the play, a restless King attempts to write a speech in his room at the Lorraine Motel when he's interrupted by a maid named Camae. They strike up a conversation that reveals much about them both—and about American life in the 1960s.
Taking on the role of Camae is 27-year-old Lisa Beasley, a Gary, Ind. native who graduated from The LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, studied acting at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in L.A. and now lives in Chicago, where she's appeared in several recent productions with ETA Creative Arts Foundation and Black Ensemble Theater. Indianapolis-based actor David Alan Anderson plays King and Court Theatre resident artist Ron OJ Parson directs.
We called Beasley to find out more about the play, its relevance to today's issues and what it was like to live around the corner from the Lorraine Motel in college.
Go: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Oct. 6 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.
Tickets: $35-$65. 773-753-4472; courttheatre.org
The play is set in her college neighborhood: "My school was literally around the corner from the Lorraine Motel. As a college student, I didn't stop and reverence the Lorraine Motel; I just walked past it every single day. And so when I read the play and it came back up, I was like, 'I was right there—that's crazy!' I felt like I was a bit of a dramaturg myself 'cause I had been there. And as far as just taking up the culture, taking up that dialect—'cause it's distinct [laughs]—I really just feel like it was meant to be, as cheesy as it sounds, 'cause it prepared me for this role. Just being there for four years was enough to be like, I can feel what a young female in her twenties was going through in Memphis, 'cause at one point, I was a young female in my twenties living in Memphis."
She has a B.A. in Classical Jazz Studies, but … "I always wanted to be an actress, but it was more of a closet thing—I didn't want anybody to know. [Laughs] So when I graduated from college, instead of entering the corporate world, I went to acting school in L.A. The acting bug bit me and it was a wrap."
What she has in common with her character: "She's a firecracker. Sometimes she talks before she thinks—I'm working on that. [Laughs] But also, she knows who she is. And sometimes, she's like, 'Uh, should I say this? Man, I'm going to say this anyway 'cause I know what I'm talking about!' [Laughs] She has a way of working a conversation where she'll get you to see her side without beating it over your head."
What you can expect from the show: "Expect to see a more real side of King, the human side. This is the person who steps off of the podium, just like we do in our everyday lives—we have our mom face, we have our teacher face. [Laughs] What do you do when you go home and you close the door and you're like, 'Oh! I'm tired,' you know?"
Little-known MLK fact: "Some people didn't know that Dr. King smoked! One of our main promo pictures is a picture of the actor playing King smoking, and some people find that shocking."
What she discovered researching the play's context: "The "I Have a Dream" speech—the "I Have a Dream" part that everybody knows—was actually ad-libbed. That wasn't transcribed into what he had at the podium with him that day. I thought that was cool."
She's also a performance poet: "I haven't been able to do as many live performances as I used to do when I was in L.A. so I've taken to YouTube like everybody else. My thing is, I got a world audience on my computer." [Beasley's "Look It Up Kid" video has more than 300,000 views.] "The last piece that I'd written is on my YouTube channel, Lisa B. Poetry. I wrote a poem about Trayvon Martin and it's been getting some pretty good views. The conversation that has been sparked behind that ordeal also ties in with our piece ["The Mountaintop"]—it just starts conversation."
What we can learn from history: "Youth sparked a change in the '60s. When I was younger, I thought they were much older and more settled into their lives and, nope—they were young! You know, Dr. King—he was only 39. And people like Julian Bond—he was in college when him and his friends were like, 'We're going to sit on this counter and we ain't moving.' [Laughs]"