The pull of history and considerable topicality sells “One Night in Miami…” at Rogue Machine. Although this well appointed dramedy about what might have gone down in the Hampton House hotel the night that Cassius Clay became world heavyweight champion slightly overdoes the 20/20 hindsight, that doesn’t stop it from grabbing our imaginations.
Inspired by the real-life meeting of Clay, singer Sam Cooke, football star Jim Brown and civil-rights leader Malcolm X on Feb. 25, 1964, playwright Kemp Powers weaves the specifics of their personalities into an engrossing scenario.
A central debate about African American assimilation versus revolution arises between Cooke (Ty Jones) and Malcolm X (Jason Delane), the latter of whom decries the former’s selling out to white audiences instead of giving his voice to the movement. Cooke, however, has an alternate, equally convincing take on subverting the system.
Their face-offs accelerate against the sunny self-involvement of Clay (Matt Jones), who allows Malcolm X to attribute his victory to divine intervention, hence his impending conversion to Islam.
Brown (Kevin Daniels), who is on the verge of movie stardom, keeps pulling attention back to basic needs, as in girls, booze and food.
Yes, some quips betray authorial cleverness more than character, and Powers could expand on the roles of Malcolm X’s bodyguards: exuberant Brother Jamaal (Jah Shams) and imposing Brother Kareem (Jason E. Kelley).
Nonetheless, the vivid humor, ironic reversals and the larger implications hold us, right through to the bittersweet fade-out. Director Carl Cofield keeps things tautly entertaining on designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s excellent set, and his actors (with alternates), who express rather than mimic their real-life counterparts, are first-rate.
Their fluid work carries this “Night” to engaging, thought-provoking fruition.
“One Night in Miami…,” Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. No performance July 6. Ends July 28. Mature audiences. $30. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.