Thursday, September 22, 2011
September 19, 2011 Issue
Of the many different types of fact pieces that appear in The New Yorker, the ones I find most irresistible concern the nature of the creative process - how life is made into art. That’s why I found the tagline of Michael Schulman’s “King’s Speech” (“Katori Hall spins theatre from a moment in history”), in this week's issue, so alluring. I immediately followed it into the story and read blissfully, raptly, without stop, right to the end. What a wonderful piece! It’s about the sources of Hall’s play The Mountaintop. I like how Schulman begins, plunging directly into the historical facts out of which the play springs:
On April 3, 1968, as thunderstorms soaked the city of Memphis, Carrie Mae Golden asked her mother if she could go out. Golden was fifteen years old and lived in a three-bedroom house on Allen Street with nine siblings and two small children of her own. There were tornado warnings across western Tennessee that night, but they didn’t deter Golden, who desperately wanted to catch a ride to Mason Street, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was due to speak.
And I like Schulman’s selection of material and the way he’s woven it together. “King’s Speech” comprehends the sanitation workers’ strike, the Poor People’s Campaign, King’s assassination, an overview of Hall’s work, a visit with Hall at her home in Southaven, attending Sunday morning service at Brown Missionary Baptist Church, a drive through the Goldens’ old neighborhood in Memphis, a viewing of the Lorraine Motel, and attendance at a rehearsal of The Mountaintop in a studio near Times Square.
I also like Schulman’s selection of details, e.g., Hall’s hair is “a spaghetti plate of dreadlocks,” the parking lot at Brown Missionary Baptist Church is so big that “we had to take a golf cart from our parking spot,” Hall’s comment, “All this history, just floatin’ away,” as she drives by some of Memphis’s numerous weed-covered lots.
Most of all, I like Schulman’s subject, a spirited playwright who has endeavored to enter into a great man’s mind, heart, and skin for the purpose of “humanizing him.” “King’s Speech” is a memorable piece. I enjoyed it enormously.