by Elizabeth Jancsy `18
‘The fourth wall,’ the invisible barrier between actor and audience, is often thought a convention of acting. However, according to Actor Joe Wilson, “no-one pays attention to the fourth wall anymore.” Wilson proved himself right, as he and his colleague Curt Columbus visited and spoke on their most recent play, The Mountaintop, with a Providence College Development of Western Civilization class.
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, Dr. Dana Dillon, Dr. Jennifer Illuzzi, and their DWC colloquium class welcomed Wilson and Columbus from the Trinity Repertory Company to speak and discuss both their play and the larger issues surrounding it.
Written by Katori Hall, the play portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the night before his assassination and consists entirely of a conversation between Dr. King and his maid. Despite this simplistic setting, the play focuses on and evokes reactions to substantial issues such as race, identity, and activism. With the presence of Wilson, who played Dr. King, and Columbus, the Artistic Director, the class was able to engage in a lively discussion concerning these topics from a variety of perspectives.
According to both the performers and the class, The Mountaintop put Dr. King in a unique light. A major point of agreement and emphasis among the group was that Dr. King was humanized in the play, making him seem more like a real man and less like a symbol. “He was just a man who had the courage to do a series of extraordinary things,” said Joe Wilson.
Seeing Dr. King as “just a man” proved to be a powerful image for many in the class, and they voiced their common impression that with enough courage and determination every person could make a significant impact. Although some students conceded they were not sure what impact they would make, Wilson and Columbus claimed they utilized the theater as a medium for activism.
As evidence of this, Wilson referred to a momentous scene in the play in which Dr. King watches a montage of the accomplishments in and obstructions to racial equality up until the current cover of the New York Times. He said that it was special and a gift that he was able to “respond to a moment at a specific time.” Both Wilson and Columbus also spoke on their role as performers in such a contentious time, calling the arts “the spear of activism.”
Columbus made it clear that his theater attempts to confront the major current issues, saying, “We are trying to create a provocative space.” Wilson reiterated this message and said that he never wanted to see an audience leaning back and enjoying pure entertainment. Rather, he said, “We want you to lean forward.”
For those who still want an opportunity to “lean forward,” there are still opportunities to see Trinity Repertory Company’s production of The Mountaintop. The play will continue to be performed at The Dowling Theatre in Downtown Providence until Feb. 12.