Angela Bassett has received glowing reviews for her role in Broadway play The Mountaintop, outshining Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, JR. in the new drama.
The stageshow is playwright Katori Hall's reimagining of the events in Memphis, Tennessee on 3 April, 1968 - the night before King's assassination - and it marks Bassett's return to the New York stage as hotel maid Camae, who starts up a deep and lengthy discussion with King after delivering his coffee.
And it's the actress' role which has drawn the attention of theatre critics, with the Washington Post's Peter Marks commenting, "Even in a dowdy hotel-maid costume, Bassett is a striking presence."
One reviewer from the Associated Press writes, "Bassett's character arc is a wonder to behold and she delivers one of her best performances since she played Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It. Her Camae starts off obsequious, grows sassy, then bureaucratic, and finally ends by being all-knowing."
Meanwhile, Jackson's performance has been met with mixed feelings - Marks notes that the Pulp Fiction star's age at 62 makes his casting as 39-year-old King "less than perfect", while a reviewer for Usa Today also criticises the character's speech, adding, "Even if you accept the perfectly credible and appealing notion that King had an impish streak, there's something too aggressively folksy about this portrait. It's one thing to envision King as a mischievous wit, quite another to hear him speaking like a sitcom character."
However, the New York Times' writer insists Jackson - who actually marched with the civil rights icon in the 1960s - is "an undeniable thrill", and the New York Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz states, "Jackson doesn't look much like King, but thanks to make-up, he doesn't look like himself, either, so the illusion works. His sonorous voice sounds right, too."
Overall, the play was given the thumbs up - The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney admits the drama "ultimately packs a punch", while a critic for trade paper Variety concludes, "Factor in the double dose of charisma from certifiable stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, and this show has wings."
The Mountaintop officially opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Thursday night (13Oct11) and runs until January (12).