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Keeping Up With the Jones

Local politico by day, comeback actor by night.


After a 28-year acting hiatus, Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones returns to his other love — theater — as one of the leads in tonight's Ensemble Theatre opening of Bourbon at the Border. In the Pearl Cleage drama, Jones plays Tyrone, a black Vietnam War vet who meets a civil-rights activist in Mississippi's turbulent summer of '64. "From that standpoint, the script resonates," says Jones. "The playwright did a masterful job of comparing and contrasting these two different kinds of battles in which African Americans were involved."Jones' performance marks his first time onstage since 1979, when he was president of the African American theatrical group Black CAST at his alma mater, Harvard College. As a law-school student, Jones also directed the college's annual National Lampoon-like musical that spoofed attorneys (every year? or subject changed?). So he's relishing his theatrical-comeback-of-sorts. "It's fascinating to deconstruct what I feel is a good piece of theater. And returning to acting has helped me develop better sensitivities to how a role can be portrayed," says Jones. "The dominant political message in this play is how the similarities between the struggle for freedom and equal rights on the part of African Americans are parallel with Vietnam."Jones also spends his nights writing plays such as the loosely autobiographical The Bloodless Jungle, a play about life in politics that he hopes to stage in a year. "I've changed the names to protect the guilty," laughs Jones. "I'm drawing on my own experiences, but I can't say any of the characters necessarily approximate anybody I've ever encountered."And when he's asked whether Bourbon dishes out more drama than a weekly showdown with fellow commissioners Tim Hagan and Jimmy Dimora, he takes a long pause before coming up with this gem: "In commissioners' meetings, there are pauses that refresh as we vote on rather routine minutiae from time to time. But I'll tell you this: The acting is a lot better in this play." Bourbon at the Border starts at 8 p.m. on Fridays, 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays, with a 7:30 p.m. show on Tuesday, January 15, through Sunday, January 20, at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue. Tickets are $12 to $24. Call 216-321-2930.
Sundays, 3 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Tue., Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 6. Continues through Jan. 20, 2008

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