Isaiah Archie in Last Night at Mikell’s. Photo: Bunbury Theatre
Last Night at Mikell’s
By Larry Muhammad
Directed by Clyde Tyrone Harper
A review by Brian Kennedy
Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.
With good pacing, an inspired script, and excellent character work, Bunbury Theatre has a wonderful world premiere in Last Night at Mikell’s.
Louisville-based playwright Larry Muhammad penned Mikell’s, which Bunbury Theatre is presenting in collaboration with Detroit Repertory Theatre. In this production, black icons James Baldwin (Isaiah Archie), Maya Angelou (Bertena Brown), and Miles Davis (William Street) arrive at Mikell’s, an influential jazz club on New York’s Upper West Side that was either a launching pad or hangout spot for many legendary R&B and Soul acts.
David Baldwin (Johnathan C. Williams), James’s brother and Mikell’s head bartender, informs the trio the club is closing, as a result of changing times, real estate agents, and gentrification. In response, the group attempts a celebration, which becomes more like an Irish wake with a roast.
Before the cast was even on the stage, audience members were already immersed in the sights and sounds of the club through John Campbell Finnegan’s great set design. Jazz and Soul music played over the speakers. The set featured a drum set in a corner, a table and chairs in front, a keyboard off to the side, and pictures of various R&B and soul artists lining the walls. Later, a bar is added to complete the setting.
The chemistry was easily believable when the four cast members arrived on stage. This was especially true with Archie and Brown’s characters. James and Maya were close friends in real life. Archie and Brown continuously showcased that bond throughout the play.
Brown was especially radiant while bringing many levels to Maya, clearly showing appropriate concern for James and his failing health while having disdain toward Miles. (“F–k you”, Miles says. “You wish,” Maya responds.) When Brown recited one of Maya’s famous works, she performed it with enthusiasm and clear joy. That led to well-earned audience applause. In a show full of highlights, Brown was the best of them.
The show was well-paced overall. Long monologues were performed with gusto and far from dull. Scene changes, except an awkward one at the end of the first act, were appropriate in length.
The only major issue in the show was music being played at unnecessary times. It played during the majority of James’s very interesting opening monologue, drowning Archie out at times despite his best efforts. Later, in the second act, the music suddenly and loudly came on, causing a momentary distraction. Hopefully, the sound crew will get the music under control throughout the show’s run.
Last Night at Mikell’s brought forth themes of, among others, friendship and civil rights. To go into the levels explored would require another article, but one thing is clear. Muhammad’s inspired writing, Clyde Tyrone Harper’s excellent direction, and the cast’s engaging and motivated performance will leave audience members thoroughly entertained and give them plenty to think about long afterward.
Featuring Isaiah Archie, Bertena Brown, Will Street, & Jonathan C. Williams
Last Night at Mikell’s
February 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, & 24 @ 7:30 pm
February 11, 18, 25 @ 2:00 pm
Bunbury TheatreThe Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202
Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.