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Louisville play premiere discusses the comfort of friendship through the eyes of Black icons

Four people sit around a table in a gym. The table is covered with scripts an personal items. The two people one the right of the photo are in discussion with one another.
Courtesy
/
Clyde Tyrone Harper
The actors of "Last Night at Mikell's" had to step into roles of the well-known Black figures and into friendships with each other to covey the story properly.

A new play premiering in Louisville explores the lives of well-known Black figures through the lens of their friendship.

“Last Night at Mikell’s” takes a deep look at the lives of James Baldwin, Miles Davis and Maya Angelou, depicting them outside of their public personas.

The play was written by Larry Muhammad and is being produced in Louisville by The Bunbury Theatre.

The play finds Davis, Angelou and Baldwin meeting at their favorite bar on what happens to be its final night open.

The three friends are joined by Baldwin’s brother David, who works at Mikell’s as a bartender.

“The whole show is about friendship,” said director Clyde Tyrone Harper. “It's about love, about how these iconic people, all of them, love each other.”

Harper said seeing these figures have interpersonal relationships shows a different side of them that the public didn’t get a chance to see.

The cast embodied their characters and were challenged further to step into those friendships in the play.

“[The cast has] with the time that we've been allowed to already have gelled and gotten close,” said Bertena Brown, who's playing Angelou. “It's a wonderful case, these three gentlemen are the shizz-nit you know what I mean?”

Over rehearsal breaks, the cast has been able to create their own friends which translates on the stage.

“I think we as humans, we can assess each other naturally,” said Johnathan Williams, who plays David Baldwin.

Williams said that natural analysis has helped them find areas of commonality and connection.

While the show is premiering in Louisville, rehearsals have been in Detroit. Harper, the director, and Isaiah Archie, playing James Baldwin, are both from Louisville and travel to Michigan weekly to meet with the other cast and crew.

Despite the travel, Archie said he’s been able to foster connections.

“We are learning each other's little quirks and things,” Archie said. “And it's great when you can see people settling into a story during this process as well, because you start seeing their own little bits and pieces being dropped into a moment.”

William Street is playing Miles Davis, a man several years his senior. Street acknowledged that Davis isn’t the most sympathetic character, but has tried to find areas for connection.

“You see this thing everybody in this show is such an intellectual, and then you have Miles,” Street explained.

In that, Street really leaned into Davis being the jokester of the friend group.

“I would – you know as a professional actress – I would never break character, but let me tell you something with this clown [Street] it has been difficult to not bust out cracking up because he's so funny in the moment for me,” Brown said.

The real-life connection is exactly the point of the play. It” shows well-known figures in a more relaxed light.

“It's just great knowing that your icons needed somebody,” Archie said. “I think that's the beauty of this story is that James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Miles Davis and David Baldwin all will moderate a space to let their hair down.”

Archie said honoring spaces that provide solace for marginalized communities is important, especially while they’re still in business.

“You don't know when that space is going to be there anymore. So you need to honor it and revere it,” Archie said.

The cast hopes their performance will be a similarly relaxed experience.

“I just want people to have fun,” Street said. “And the beautiful thing about what we're able to do is to just get spiritual with everybody out there and with each other.”

“Last Night at Mikell’s” runs at the Henry Clay Theatre Feb. 9 through Feb. 25.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.