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In Arts & Entertainment

Freelance director May Adrales is drawn to works that illuminate societal injustices.

Young director uses theater to change the world

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Adrales was named an Associate Artist at the Milwaukee Rep this August.

"The Associate Artist Initiative is a rare opportunity for an artist to have a greater stake in the community she serves, and to create a deeper, more satisfying dialogue with the audience and the people who make The Rep the strong cultural institution that it is," she wrote at the time.

"The Mountaintop" is a compact play with big themes. Historical figures like King, who gave their lives as martyrs, are not easily accepted as human – but the play demands that the audience accepts his flaws, from his cigarette addiction to his smelly feet to his own crippling self-doubt.

"Katori has a background in journalism so the play is incredibly well-researched," said Adrales. "Her language really captures an essence of King but also adds her own interpretation of him. If you really follow the text you see a lot of different sides to him. He code switches depending on who he's talking to, like great leaders and orators tend to do."

The character of Camae, a maid at the Lorraine Motel where King stayed his last night, is crucial in drawing out the character's weaknesses in all their heartbreaking detail.

"Camae is a dream, and I think she's a dream for any actor to play," said Adrales. "I'm so glad Nikiya (Mathis) is doing it. Katori wrote that character with so much love. There's so much laughter and joy within that character that I think it's easy for even someone like King who has the weight of the world on his shoulders to show a little bit more humanism."

Playing a figure like King could be daunting for anyone, and Adrales sees it as her job to help actor J. Bernard Calloway tackle the task.

"We talked in the audition. Like, 'You're not King. And I know you're not King. And we're just going to have to figure out what works, who you are,'" she said. "I told him, 'Essentially, this King is going to be you.'"

A play with a subject of this import allows for the kind of heavy research Adrales relishes. In preparation for "Yellowman" she spent time with Gullah communities in the South, and for "The Mountaintop" she traveled to Memphis and visited the Lorraine Hotel and Mason Temple, where King delivered his last speech.

"The amount of information on King, the different biographies, authorized and unauthorized, and the documentaries that have been made – that was just thrilling," she said. "I knew King like a chapter in a history book. But you're really trying to understand this life of a man, because we're witnessing him on April 3, 1968 which is the very end of his life."

Although she may not be on track for law school anymore and her foreign policy days are long over, it would seem that Adrales was destined to enact social change after all. She gravitates to plays that illustrate societal injustices, works that challenge the audience to examine themselves and their culture.

"The work that often attracts me all deals with social issues that are important to me – racial inequality, people trying to make change in our society. They deal with hidden problems that are happening in American society that deal with hidden racism, economic disparity. So now I feel like it's all coming together," she said. "Like, 'Finally!' I feel like I'm doing all of the things that always interested me."

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