Although rooted in a historic event, Kemp Powers' period piece about a meeting between Sam Cooke, Jim Brown,
Malcolm X and Cassius Clay is less about these gentlemen per se than
it is about the struggle of African-American men in general to deal
with the ubiquitous racism that continually challenges their manhood.
The play takes place in a motel room following Clay's victory over
Sonny Liston in 1964. At 22, fresh off his triumph, the young boxer
(Matt Jones) is both less scarred and less knowing than the others.
He's also a recent convert to Islam, which raises the eyebrows of
Cooke (Ty Jones) and Brown (Kevin Daniels) -- both alcohol-imbibing,
womanizing, pork chop-loving hedonists. Well directed by Carl
Cofield, the play heats up around the philosophical divide between
Malcolm (Jason Delane) an ideologue and devout Muslim who scorns the
White Establishment, and Cooke, a musician and player in the music
business who's successfully worked the system for his own gain. (Sadly
and ironically, both these men would be dead within a year.) Powers'
perspicacious script gives the performers plenty to work with, and
they make the most of it, bouncing off each other with savvy, skill
and humor. Delane is excellent as an understated Malcolm, struggling
to master not only his passions but his well-founded fear that his
life is in danger. A charismatic Jones augments an intense portrayal
with his gifted singing voice. Giovanni Adams and Jason E. Kelley add
menace and levity as Malcolm's bodyguards. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041
W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 18.
(855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: June 8. Continues through Sept. 15, 2013