Rogue Machine Theatre’s promise to nurture, cultivate, and produce emerging playwrights and plays started with their founding in 2008. Since the Los Angeles theatre’s inception, they have produced an enormous catalog of world premieres. One of those, Kemp Powers’ One Night in Miami, is suddenly getting attention outside of Los Angeles. Last year’s production at the Donmar Warehouse has just been nominated for the most sought-after award in British theatre: an Olivier Award for Best New Play.
February 25, 1964 was not only a shocking night in boxing history, but a pivotal moment for the civil rights movement. A loud mouthed 22-year-old fighter named Cassius Clay was predicted to finally be silenced by boxing favorite Sonny Liston. The odds were so far in Liston’s favor that no celebration was planned for the potential of a Clay win. When he actually did win, his three closest friends, activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football player Jim Brown, threw together an impromptu party in Malcolm’s cramped hotel room. The next morning, Cassius Clay would make the announcement that would change history: Muhammad Ali, the activist and social change warrior, was born. The play explores what might have transpired that evening in that tiny hotel room before a world would be forever changed.
Powers explained that these were four of his heroes growing up—icons to the world and icons to him. When telling this story of potential and ‘what-ifs,’ he said, “stripping away the icon and just seeing these guys being men, being friends, being a bunch of guys, is really key.”
Reviews of One Night in Miami’s world premiere production were full of praise for the piece and the performances. According to Myron Meisel of the Hollywood Reporter, it is “a well-drafted and intricate sketch, with an uncommon feeling for shading. It gives fine actors good material to play in a congenially theatrical mode”
“It's easy to see why investors are eyeing this crackerjack world premiere, wrote Bob Verini of Variety. “Any playwright can stick celebrity facsimiles together in a room; it takes real talent not only to render those portraits believable but also to invest the encounter with dramatic weight.”
Rogue Machine Theatre’s world premiere production of One Night In Miami earned Powers the Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding World Premiere of a New Play. It also received three L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards and four NAACP Theatre awards including Best Playwright.
Now, three years after its world premiere, One Night In Miami is being celebrated again—this time across the pond in the British theatre community. The Donmar Warehouse production ran from October 6–December 3, 2016. This was the first production of the play and dramatic portrayal of Muhammad Ali since he died at age 74 in June of that year.
“In my wildest dreams I never expected the play I wrote to go from being staged in a tiny theater on Pico Boulevard (across the street from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles) to being presented by one of London's finest theatre companies,” said Powers. “The play has already been received better than I would have ever imagined, both domestically and in the U.K., which I think proves writing your most honest truth can find a wide audience, both among typical theater-goers and curious newcomers. I hope the Olivier nomination helps to keep enthusiasm for the play going strong. I would love to see it brought to so many other communities.”
This story is not only garnering immense praise for the cast, crew and production; its nomination for an Olivier is another check mark for the L.A. theatre community and Rogue Machine Theatre. “Of course, no one would even know me as a writer if not for Los Angeles' marvelous, intimate theater community, which truly delivers on the egalitarian promise of the arts,” said Powers when discussing the impact this nomination will have on L.A. theatre and Rogue Machine. “I was a company member at Rogue Machine Theatre for years as a storyteller and writer, both developing my skills as a playwright and being exposed to incredible, edgy plays that inspired me to try new things. One Night in Miami is far from the first play born of this unique 99-seat ecosystem to go onto further success, and I'm certain it won't be last. L.A. theatre is a hidden gem of our national theater ecosystem. I hope more of the people who call the city home dig deep to discover it.”
It may be an honor for Powers to be nominated, but it’s a win for the L.A. theatre community as one of its own steps into the national spotlight.