City Theatre is mounting one of its best productions in some time, but it runs only through Dec. 1, so put your Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge and get to the South Side.
One Night in Miami . . imagines the scene in a motel room Feb. 24, 1965 when four friends gather to celebrate. Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X, major figures in the African-American community, meet to hail the triumph of their younger pal, boxer Cassius Clay, after he dethroned Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion.
It also marks the night Clay, then 22, joined the Nation of Islam to become Muhammad Ali.
Inside a marvelous set designed by – who else?, Tony Ferrieri — the four joke, kid each other and spar over their role in the growing civil rights movement. The instigator is Malcolm X, a onetime criminal who’s embraced the teachings of Elijah Muhammed but is now pulling away from the Nation of Islam to follow his own path. He brings ice cream, not liquor, to the party.
Avery Glymph is a powerful Malcolm X, hectoring his buddies to join him in fighting racism in extreme measures. While Clay, an Ali-shuffling Thomas Walter Booker, seems ready to join him, Brown, one of the best runners in National Football League history, and singing star Cooke have little interest.
They’ve got their own plans. As Brown, Quincy Chad, whose shoulders are so wide he doesn’t need shoulder pads, is ready to leave football for the pleasures and money of a movie star. His way of dealing with discrimination is to bowl over racists just like he did tacklers.
Dwayne Washington’s performance as the soul singer Cooke is the centerpiece of the play. He not only resembles the star but sings much like him. Malcolm focuses on the recording star, cajoling and insulting him to put his talents to the movement instead of performing romantic love songs.
What he finally discovers is that Cooke is indeed moving in that direction with his ballad, “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song Washington performs so well.
Kemp Powers, who won a prize for “One Night in Miami. . .”, brings a touch of August Wilson to his portrayal of black men who have felt the oppression of racism, but keep their humanity and humor. The four actors fill their roles comfortably and with confidence, with Washington the standout.
Cooke and Malcolm X would be shot to death a year after the date of this play. Powers hints at their fates, a foreboding of tragedy that hangs over the stage. One Night in Miami. . . captures just a glimpse of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but it’s a vivid and lasting one.
The play closes Dec. 1. For tickets, call 412-431-2489 or use http://www.citytheatrecompany.org
Bob Hoover retired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as its full-time book editor and drama editor in 2011 after 28 years with the newspaper. He continued to write part-time for the PG reviewing books, theater, and articles on literary, historical and local topics until 2014. Hoover has reviewed myriad entertainment productions from the circus to children’s theater in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Canada. As a book editor, he reviewed an average of 50 books a year, wrote regular columns on the local and national literary scene and organized and edited the newspaper’s weekly book section. He provided extensive coverage of Pittsburgh’s literary community as well as reporting on events, readings, and festivals around the country. Hoover was a theater journalism fellow at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California and the winner of state and local writing awards.
Categories: Archived Reviews