POLITICS

MLK Jr. lives again on Arena Stage

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Yeas and Nays,Politics,Alicia M. Cohn

On the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., notables in Washington gathered at Arena Stage for opening night of a play depicting the hours before his death.

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg all turned up to greet playwright Katori Hall at a reception before the D.C. opening of her play "The Mountaintop."

Hall told Yeas & Nays the timing was "bittersweet" but that for the audience, "for an hour and a half, he can be alive."

The play explores the difference between the man and the iconic figure, a tension that Hall said loomed large over the D.C. production. "We are performing in the shadows of this monument, attempting to make a flesh and blood man out of a national icon," she said, referring to the engraving near the site of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "I hope people see that our heroes can be memorialized in many different ways."

She added that while she welcomes all of D.C. to experience the play, her dream audience includes the Obamas.

Edwards, seeing the play for the first time, also found the D.C. setting poignant and noted she hoped to leave the performance with a "to-do list [for] the unfinished work that Dr. King left for us."

Hall later told us that she saw the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial for the first time after the play.

"When I noticed how it was along the tidal basin across from the Jefferson Memorial, I thought how fitting. Both men were imperfect," she wrote in an email. "What I think is that it is important that in the midst of making monuments of men, we do not forget their humanity. Because seeing the humanity in our heroes allows us to see the hero in ourselves."

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