Brandon Jones hopes to see a few black faces in the crowd during the performance of “The Mountaintop,” but mostly he’ll be happy to just see faces, and plenty of them.
“Martin Luther King is not just a figure in black history,” said Jones, who plays the slain civil rights leader in Katori Hall’s 2011 play “The Mountaintop,” beginning Friday at Capital Repertory Theatre. “He’s a figure in history, regardless of color. So I’ll be happy to see black people, and I’ll be just as happy to see Chinese, Indian or white people. I want to see a lot of people there. It’s the world that mourns his loss. Not just black people.”
The show, which begins with previews on Friday and opens officially Tuesday night, is set in King’s Memphis, Tenn., hotel room the night before he was shot and killed in April 1968. The only two characters are King and Camae, a young maid at the Lorraine Hotel where King stayed in Memphis.
Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett starred in the Broadway version, which ran from October 2011 through January 2012 and earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Set Design.
WHERE: Capital Rep, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Friday, opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 9; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $60-$20
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
Playing the role of Camae in the Capital Rep production is Liz Morgan, like Jones a New York City-based actor. Directing is Nick Mangano, a theater professor at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.
“This is not a documentary,” said Jones, who grew up in Paris, Ky. “It’s a work of fiction with some facts thrown in. I know some people were saying they didn’t want to see it because it might tarnish Dr. King’s legacy, but I didn’t think that at all.”
Hall’s script alludes to King’s reputation as a womanizer, but there’s nothing new or too damaging about that revelation according to Jones.
A mortality play
“It’s a play about mortality,” he said. “He’s an icon, like John Kennedy, and I don’t think this play is going to tarnish his image. It’s a great story, and it’s about how some people face tough situations. He did so many wonderful things and helped make the world a better place. We’re not going to hurt his reputation.”
The play opens with King returning to his hotel room after an emotional speech to sanitation strikers at the Mason Temple in Memphis. While relaxing in his room, waiting for the Rev. Ralph Abernathy to return with a fresh pack of cigarettes, King is greeted by Camae, who brings him coffee and shares her cigarettes. While Abernathy fails to show, the young maid remains.
“I haven’t seen a production, but I read the play when it was originally published, and I read it again when I saw it was coming to Broadway,” said Jones. “Once it came around for regional productions, I read it one more time to prepare myself.”
While playing an iconic figure like King might create apprehension in some actors, Jones isn’t worried about that.
“The script gives you so much, so there’s a road map of where you need to go,” he said. “I haven’t put too much pressure on myself at all. The playwright does a marvelous job of creating this character for me, and then there’s the collaboration between me, the director and my co-star. We’re having a lot of fun trying to create the best story for our audience. We’re on a journey and, while I take it very seriously, so far it’s been an easy ride.”
Jones, 33, says he doesn’t have to do any aging to play the 39-year-old King.
“There’s only six years difference, and my voice gives me a little age so I don’t have to worry about that at all,” he said. “I just need to get the physicality right. This is a great show, and it’s such a blessing and a privilege to play him on the stage. I want this story to be heard, so people can spread the word and get reacquainted with Martin Luther King.”
Man of multiple talents
Growing up in Kentucky, a short 20-minute ride from Louisville, Jones was into sports.
“In the ninth grade I decided to take an acting class just to get an easy A,” he said. “I was so into sports, and I still enjoy shooting a little basketball during my downtime. But once I took that acting class, I was bitten by the bug.”
Jones went to the University of Cincinnati to study acting and music, and upon graduation moved to New York City to begin his professional life. That was 11 years ago.
“I’ve done a lot of work in regional theater, I’ve done a lot of voice-over work, and I’m also a singer/songwriter, so I’ve kept myself pretty busy,” said Jones. “I have my own record label, and I’ve had numerous projects, so I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into any one category. I like to use all my talents.”
Jones, who plays the guitar and sings, is working on a musical version of the ABC television show “Scandal.”
“We might do something with it at the New York Musical Theatre Festival this year, and who knows what I’ll be doing between now and then,” he said. “I do a lot of acoustic guitar, lots of R&B, and even some rock. My music is sort of a fusion between those three.”
Cap Rep debut
Like Jones, Morgan is making her debut at Capital Rep. She is a graduate of Brown University, recently earning an MFA in acting and the Davis Wickham Prize for playwriting at Brown’s Trinity Rep. She has worked at the Huntington Theatre Company and the Harlem Shakespeare Festival, and has also studied theater and dance at the London Dramatic Academy and the Yeredon Center for the Malian Arts.
Mangano, who has worked at major universities and conservatories around the country, has directed “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Dancing at Lughnasa” and “M. Butterfly” at Capital Rep.