opening night of Rogue Machine’s One
Night In Miami… is a buzz of anticipation. Settling in my seat, I find
myself under the watchful guard of the Muslim Brotherhood, posted down front.
They patrol the motel on the evening of February 25, 1964, the night that 22-year-old
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) defeats Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight Champion
of the World. Instead of attending a huge party at a luxurious hotel in Miami,
Clay is joined at this motel by three of his friends: activist Malcolm X,
singer Sam Cooke, and football player Jim Brown. What follows is playwright
Kemp Powers’s powerfully imagined conversation of what may have occurred that
night between four friends on the cusp of making history—after which, Clay will
announce his involvement with the Nation of Islam.
does a fantastic job of creating four dynamic and interesting relationships
that transcend their famous personas, highlighting and expertly putting into
context both the personal and societal struggles each character faced during
this time. Jason Delane’s Malcolm X is unafraid to tell the truth and push his
friends to fight for the cause against oppression, but Delane also shows X’s vulnerability
and how painful it was for him to be silenced by the Nation of Islam. As Sam
Cooke, Ty Jones is a delight to watch, charming the crowd with his fantastic
voice and emotional depth. Kevin Daniels exudes power and swagger as football
player Jim Brown; he is able to impart wisdom that is only learned through
self-awareness. Matt Jones’s portrayal of Cassius Clay as a cocky young boxer
struggling with his decision to join the Nation of Islam is charming. Jones is
the glue that holds this small group of friends together. Overall, this cast is
a formidable group that proves each actor can stand with his famous counterpart.
the play is set in a small Miami motel room, director Carl Cofield uses the
cramped space expertly by conducting a delicate balance act between the four
historical stars, keeping the sparks flying without going supernova. The power contained
in this simple room creates the perfect setting for history to unfold. The design
team sets the scene perfectly. Stephanie Kerly Schwartz’s understated set and Leigh
Allen’s lights have a few tricks up their sleeves when Sam Cooke breaks out
into song, bringing the Apollo to the small Florida motel room.
though One Night In Miami… is a
period piece set in 1964, its themes still apply to contemporary times. People
are still struggling for a more equitable society and plays like Powers’s are
very important reminders that there is still a lot worth fighting for. One of
the stronger themes in the production is about friendship and the role it plays
in our lives. Cooke and X, for example, have a contentious relationship. X
accuses Cooke of not using his access, power, and influence to help with the
cause. Cooke feels that controlling production and the rights to his music is
statement enough, but X pushes further by playing “How Many Roads Does a Man
Walk Down” by Bob Dylan, confronting Cooke about the messages he is putting out
in the world. X encourages Cooke to be better, pointing out how he can be of
service to the cause; this is only okay because of their strong friendship.
These men act as mirrors for each other, giving encouragement when needed and a
nudge when they stray from the ultimate goal.
One Night In Miami…
is not just about Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X—it is about
friendship and the love that these four men had for each other. Even those with
only a passing knowledge of the players and the time period will be able to
access and enjoy this play. The tragedy of the times hangs over the heads of
these characters with the killing of Sam Cooke and assassination of Malcolm X,
but hope is the heartbeat that drums out the rhythm in Powers’s play.
One Night In Miami…
runs through July 28th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm (no
performance July 6th) at the Rogue Machine, 5041 Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles,
CA 90019. Tickets are $30. For reservations, call (855) 585-5185 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
There is plenty of street parking and a nice bar/restaurant right next door for
a quick drink or bite to eat before the show.