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By Beki Pineda

THE MOUNTAINTOP. Written by Katori Hall; directed by Gavin Mayer. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada) through April 17.  Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or www.arvadacenter.org.

Katori Hall, the playwright of this startling script, has a vivid imagination. She pondered the interim between Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech to his congregation and his death from a sniper’s bullet, and came up with a creative and insightful way for him to use the time to realize his role as martyr. She presents an honest portrayal of what the real Martin might have been—a little vain, a little lonely, somewhat unsure of some things but rock-solid confident about others.

Into King’s reverie and frustration (he’s out of his forbidden cigarettes!), a room-service maid enters to bring him coffee. She is impressed by his deeds but treats him like a man. She also has her own ideas about the path to civil rights. Her saucy, outspoken behavior appeals to him and fills the emptiness of his solitary motel room. Just when you think a seduction is going to happen, the play takes a turn into a completely different direction.

The wonder of Ms. Hall’s script is in watching the King character absorb the “reality” of the new set of circumstances. He exhibits the classic Kübler-Ross  stages of grief, at first displaying disbelief and denial. He becomes angry and bargains for the opportunity to finish his work, and then gradually comes to an acceptance that his beliefs will continue—with him or without him. A final bargain allows him to see 40 years into the future to the election of an African-American President. He delivers a concluding sermon and call to action to his current audience in the theater.

Making his regional debut, Cedric Mays brings charm and weight to his role as Dr. King. While he lacks the physical heft of the real King, he has the voice and gestures down pat. He is joined on stage by local actress Betty Hart as the smart-mouthed Camae. Ms. Hart brings life to both sides of her character, showing both respect for the icon and knowledge of the man.

Brian Mallgrave’s simple motel-room set has a few surprises of its own. Mr. Mallgrave and Jacob Kenworthy have created a montage of civil-rights history that brings back memories and inspires to new heights—a beautiful way to end this performance.

WOW factor: 9