Thursday, April 23, 2015

How My Parents' Terrible Carpet Contributed To Vermont Stage Company's Brilliant "The Mountaintop"

My husband, Jeff Modereger, on the set of
"The Mountaintop" at Vermont Stage Company.  
My parents' decrepit, scary, awful, 40 year old living room carpet became part of an awesome piece of art.

My husband, Jeff Modereger, is a set and scene designer for plays, and he's the scenic designer for the Vermont Stage Company's production of "The Mountaintop" 

If you're anywhere near Burlington, Vermont between now and May 10, when "The Mountaintop" closes, you MUST go see it.

It's the best play I've seen Vermont Stage Company produce, and that's saying something. They've done some awesome work over the years.

More on this in a moment.

The wall to wall carpet in my parents' home had become a risk to them. It was frayed, and split. Tripping hazards for my mother, who is in her 80s, and my father, who turns 95 on Friday (!!)

We were visiting my parents, and Jeff looked down at the carpet and said, "This is perfect."

Um, what?

"The Mountaintop" takes place in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. In the play, Martin Luther King Jr. has just checked in. It's the night before he is to be assassinated.

The play is exclusively about the imagined interaction between MLK Jr. and a chambermaid who comes in to deliver the coffee and newspaper he'd ordered. I won't describe what happens in "The Mountaintop" beyond this, because I don't want to be a spoiler.

African Americans in the late 1960s didn't get to stay in nice hotels, and the Lorraine Motel was pretty threadbare.

My parents' carpet was certainly threadbare, and was the just right color for late 1960s cheap furnishings, the kind in the Lorraine Motel. Jeff had struggled to find a carpet for the set, and my parents' mess of a carpet was exactly perfect for "The Mountaintop."

So we struck a deal. Jeff bought the carpet from my parents, and Jeff, me, and my two sisters and their partners chipped in additional funds to buy them a new, safe carpet. Everybody wins!

Except for people with allergies. Though my mother faithfully vacuumed the carpet over the years, the carpet has 40 years worth of cat and dog dander, plus whatever the cat literally dragged in.

People on the crew for "The Mountaintop" with allergies have not been happy. Because of this issue, and the fact that a feather pillow bursts open during one scene in the play, there's a sign on door to Vermont Stage Company alerting people with allergies.

Still, I love how my parents managed to contribute in a strange but effective way to the Vermont arts scene.

Even if you do have allergies, go see "The Mountaintop" at Vermont Stage in downtown Burlington.

The playwright is Katori Hall, who certainly has a way with language. From a literary standpoint, it is one of the most well written plays I've seen, full of provocative, beautifully constructed dialogue that never gets flowery, but does get intense.

Cristina Alicea, the artistic director at Vermont Stage Company, directs the play, and paces it just perfectly so that the plot moves briskly, but not so fast that you can't catch the powerful dialogue and the expressiveness of Jolie Garrett, who plays Martin Luther King Jr and Myxolydia Tyler, who plays Camae, the chambermaid who comes into MLK's room.

Interesting fact: Garrett was born on the day MLK Jr. was laid to rest.

Tyler is especially awesome. Many of her best moments are not when she's speaking, but when she's reacting to what Martin Luther King Jr is saying. This is especially true as "The Mountaintop" builds toward its riveting climax.

Yeah, I'm gushing about "The Mountaintop." Deal with it. Better yet, go see it for yourself.  As I noted above, this production is the Vermont Stage Company at its finest.

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