‘The Mountaintop," which opens Tuesday at Capital Repertory Theatre after a series of public previews beginning tonight, takes place April 3, 1968. The setting is the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
It is the evening of the day Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech. More significantly, it is the night before King was assassinated.
The logical assumption would be that "The Mountaintop" is a historical look at Rev. King and his political influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"Yes, but not really," says Brandon Jones, the actor playing King in this production. He insists this is not a civil rights play. But he adds, "Of course it's impossible to talk about the man and not discuss civil rights. But this is a look at the man, not the legend. The play shows him as a human being, not god-like. He has a hole in his sock; his feet give off an odor, he worries about how his mustache looks and even expresses doubts about his accomplishments."
Jones is careful to add, "The play is a fictionalized version of events that evening. It will not tarnish Rev. King. There's nothing shocking in his behavior."
He explains that mostly the play includes a few little-known behavior quirks.
"I didn't know he was a chain smoker, suffered from occasional depression or that he was prone to laryngitis," Jones said during an interview.
As a warning to parents who might be bringing kids to the show, he cautions that the language is sometimes earthy.
Jones wants it known this
is not a one-man show and that the play has a touch of mystery.
"The Mountaintop" takes place as King returns to his hotel room after delivering his speech to striking sanitation workers that afternoon at Masonic Temple. Came, a new and very attractive maid (played by Liz Morgan), brings coffee to King and flirtatiously engages him in conversation.
Jones says it's not a spoiler to reveal she is not what she's supposed to be.
"It's pretty clear she is something more than a maid," he says. "The audience knows she is special, and King does too. You wonder if she's from the FBI, a Black Panther or something else."
The actor has nothing but praise for playwright Katori Hall. "She wrote a moving, funny play that permits us to relate to greatness," Jones said. "This is a play that shows a great man who has longings, fears and desires. The work permits us to check in with ourselves to understand great people are human just like us."
He says the playwright's approach to King permits him to capture the essence of King without doing an impersonation of the man. "Of course the audience expects Martin Luther King, Jr. to be in the room so I have to honor that. Too, the script specifically says ‘he turns on the King voice.'
"It was a voice that would command a room and there are moments that capture the words and spirit of his great speeches and I have to recreate them with accuracy.
"However, for the most part, my job is to find Martin Luther King, Jr. -- the man; show his love for his wife and family and the loneliness that comes with greatness.
"I hope people leave the play having a greater respect for the man because he overcame his imperfections and ultimately gave the greatest sacrifice of all for what he believed."