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October 19, 2012


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I think the popularity of this play this season has everything to do with the facts that it's a cheap two-hander (as you already pointed out) and it's about MLK. Because of the latter, and the fact that it was on Broadway starring Sam Jackson and Angela Bassett, it needed zero help from The Times -- but I think despite Brantley's mixed review, he aided and abetted anyway with his declaration that MOUNTAINTOP is "at heart a comfort play, a nursery room fable for grown-ups that seeks to reconcile us with a tragedy that tore the fabric of a nation."

At any rate, I remain befuddled by the show's success as well. I saw it and wrote the StageGrade, and I agree with the play's detractors (mawkish; empty banter). I didn't see HURT VILLAGE, but after going to THE MOUNTAINTOP, I can't believe I missed much.

Jack Worthing

Isherwood's grip loosening? Hardly. It's cheap, it's about Dr. King, and it was on in London and New York. The End.


Julie, you did miss very much. I didn't see The Mountaintop, but I loved loved LOVED HURT VILLAGE.

There may be a piece in this about the influence of the Times on different audiences. Black audiences may not be as influenced by the NY Times theatre section and that helps influence the programming. Plus a lot of audiences may be more receptive to "comfort" plays. I know the play has its detractors, but it does also have its champions. Anecdotally, I know a lot of different people who saw it and loved it very much.

I think the economics are key, as well, but I think Jack is oversimplifying the matter: for regional theatres, THE MOUNTAINTOP scratches a lot of itches (if you start from the premise that theatres are not choosing plays simply on account of quality AND that they're not choosing THE MOUNTAINTOP due to its quality): it's a new play by a female writer of color; it's got black content that's appealing to "traditional" (i.e. older) black audiences, but it's also a bit "edgy," on that front, it's not an August Wilson play and, yes, it's cheaper to produce.

I very, very much agree with you about the lack of diversity in the ranks of critics and how it hurts plays like HURT VILLAGE, which was an exciting, compassionate, lovely play and deserves to have a long life. Of course, it's also a large, ensemble work that requires some very specialized casting (a ten-year old who can rap and drum).

Actually, I think the same can be said The Motherfucker With The Hat. While Guirgis is not exactly a writer of color, his work appeals on many of the same axes. There was a strong current through the NYC theatre community that it was a play mistreated by the critics. (Again, I didn't get a chance to see it.)

Just to cycle back around: sentimentality isn't a flaw, and I don't think it should be. Theatre professionals tend to armor ourselves against it, but audiences don't necessarily do the same.


I saw both Mountaintop and Hurt Village. I am an African American woman. I agreed with the critics. Both seemed the work of a young promising playwright given a big stage too soon. Motherfucker with the Hat was a good play made mediocre by the casting of Chris Rock--who was game and charming, but miscast.

I agree with Julie's comment. Mountaintop is being done regionally because it is inexpensive to produce and fills the February black history month slot well.


Stephen Adly Guirgis is a writer of color (Egyptian-American). The Motherfucker with the Hat was very well reviewed, especially in a glowing notice from Ben Brantley.


Yes, THE MOUNTAINTOP is a new play by a female writer of color-- but if it's not a good play? What then? Should we produce Hall's work simply because she's an African American playwright with buzz right now? I find that argument troubling.

Sentimentality isn't a flaw, you're right. But it's rarely done well, and in this instance I think the critics are right in seeing THE MOUNTAINTOP's use of it as problematic. (This could lead to a whole other discussion about whether critics should write for the "audience" - whoever that is - or actually write critically. Unlike you, however, everyone I know who saw/read the play was very disappointed.)

Maybe I missed something -- and if so, apparently Mark, above, did as well -- but how was MOTHERFUCKER mistreated by the critics? The critical consensus was an A-.


Your first argument is by no means at all the argument I'm making. I'm not saying at all Hall's work should be produced because she's black and buzzy. What I'm saying is that what critics and theatre professionals think is a "good" play may not be what audiences respond to. The question of who the critics are writing for (and to) is a good one and worth some discussion. I'm simply raising the question that, in this discussion, the given is that THE MOUNTAINTOP is not a good play and that it's programming is the result of some form of political correctness or marketing concern. Isn't it possible that audiences may be responding to it in a way that critics didn't?

I get it; you didn't like it and didn't think it worked. I still say you missed a great play in HURT VILLAGE.

Mark, fair point on Guirgis, though, to my recollection, he usually doesn't identify as an artist of color himself.


I wasn't disagreeing with you about the fact that audiences may enjoy the sentimentality of THE MOUNTAINTOP; I was simply trying to raise a point about the nature of criticism, albeit slightly off-topic. But I still agree with talkyintrovert that a big reason behind its popularity in the regions is that it "fills the February black history month slot well."

And I get it, too; I apparently missed a great play in HURT VILLAGE.

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