I know it's called acting and it's wrong of me to prejudge but I'm having a hard time imagining Samuel L. Jackson, who's nearly 63, portraying 39-year-old Martin Luther King on Broadway in The Mountaintop.
The play, by Katori Hall, imagines an encounter between King and a maid in a Memphis motel room on the night before his assassination. The producers have announced that they'll begin previews Sept. 22 at the Jacobs Theatre.
I love seeing actors onstage whose work I've admired from movies or TV. I think it's great when they generate excitement and bring people to the theatre who wouldn't have come otherwise. But the actor has to be right for the part.
Maybe I'm totally wrong and Samuel L. Jackson can "play" younger. Perhaps the playwright believes he's just perfect for the part - or has just resigned herself to the economic reality of mounting an unknown work on Broadway. Maybe it's been so long since King's death that it no longer matters.
I usually don't get too hot and bothered about this. I realize it's a business. But my initial reaction is that having an actor who's nearly 25 years older than the real-life figure he's playing is ridiculous. It's the worst kind of stunt casting because it ignores the role, not to mention the paucity of leading dramatic roles for black actors.
Now I realize that The Mountaintop would have no chance of getting staged on Broadway without a "name." But couldn't the producers have found an African-American actor from TV or movies who was more age-appropriate? (For example Jeffrey Wright, a Tony winner who played King in an HBO movie, Boycott.)
Could you imagine a 63-year-old white actor in the lead of a Broadway play about the last night of John F. Kennedy's life? I don't think so.