Playwright Kemp Powers takes a historical incident about which little is known, a meeting between activist Malcolm X, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, singer-songwriter Sam Cooke and newly crowned heavyweight champion Cassius Clay, and delivers a dramatically satisfying punch, in the world premiere of One Night in Miami...at Rogue Machine Theatre/Theater.
The group is ostensibly celebrating the 1964 upset victory of the 22-year-old Clay (Matt Jones) over Sonny Liston. They avoid the crowds, remaining in a room at the Hampton House in Miami, where Malcolm (Jason Delane) plays host. But his proselytizing the Nation of Islam to his guests, as well as a major confrontation with Cooke (Ty Jones) over his lack of activism threatens to detonate the celebration. Powers wisely uses the character of Brown (Kevin Daniels) to inject palliative humor during the turmoil, as in the moment he explains to Malcolm why he cannot become a Muslim: "Pork chops and white women."
There is a pleasing and impressive balance to Powers' dramaturgy, for Clay, not yet "Muhammed Ali," has his own doubts about the Nation, and by the end of the play's ninety minutes, we see Malcolm's own fears and concerns about his place in the religious organization, although the reason for his falling out of favor is not specified.
Director Carl Cofield nicely allows a flow of these historical figures, and two members of the Nation of Islam, in and out of that hotel room. It can be fairly noted that Delane's early uneasiness as the political leader gives away a bit too much of the ending. Still, each character in this uniformly stellar cast gets his due. Jim Brown, the seemingly least sensitive of the group, surprises with his preference of overt versus covert racism. Cooke rips it up as a singer, but inevitably, reveals a deep-seated fury couched in a song far removed from his ballads. Clay, despite his youthful bluster and joking, is unsure of his place as a celebrity and spokesperson. And then, there is Malcolm, caught between the politics of the Nation of Islam and the fire within him to change a nation not yet ready to cede equality to his race.