Martin Luther King Jr. was no superhero.
Kevin Hanchard, who plays King in Obsidian Theatre’s The Mountaintop, says that this is one of the most inspirational aspects about him. “He was just a man,” says Hanchard. “There was no cape.”
The Mountaintop is currently being remounted at Toronto’s Aki Studio Theatre after its successful run at the Shaw Festival this year. The show paints a picture of King’s last night before his assassination at the Lorraine Motel. It is a play about his life, his hopes and his dreams both as an activist and, more importantly, as a human being.
“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with playing someone who has such a wide range of reference,” says Hanchard. “Everyone sort of has their own ideas about what he was like.”
The play’s move to Toronto means a smaller theatre and a more intimate playing space, a factor that Hanchard says he believes will pull the audience in and make for a more profound experience.
Performing for Toronto’s audience demographic will be a stimulating experience for Hanchard, who acknowledges that the reception may be different from that which he received at Shaw. “We might end up with many young students for whom Dr. King is simply someone from a textbook. So the question will be: how will they receive it?”
Regardless, Hanchard says there is something in the play for everyone. “I think we live in an age where it is easy to be anonymous,” says Hanchard. “(In King’s time) you really had to fight for your opinions. You had to put them out there and the consequences were imminent. There were no buffers of the internet or secrecy of anonymity.”
Being around the same age that King is in the play, and having four children himself, Hanchard tries to juxtapose King’s life to his own and understand the hardships King faced and all that he accomplished. Hanchard explains that King lived off of three to five hours of sleep consistently, but despite that obstacle, he continued to persevere. “I was surprised by the unrelenting pressure that was on him,” says Hanchard. “He tirelessly soldiered on for what he thought was right.”
The Mountaintop delivers a powerful message that Hanchard says each and every spectator can be inspired by and can apply to their everyday lives.
“I want people to walk away with a deeper and more profound respect for who Dr. King was and is, not just because of the speeches, but because of the lengths he went to, to try to accomplish the goals he felt were worthwhile,” explains Hanchard. “People need to realize that this is a responsibility we all have and no matter how big or small we are, we can all effect change.”
The Mountaintop, written by Katori Hall and directed by Philip Akin, is playing at Aki Studio Theatre from Sept. 27 to Oct. 19. For more information, visit http://www.obsidiantheatre.com/season/mountaintop/.