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THEATER BEAT

'Moon' Illuminates Malcolm X's Life

February 09, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES

Several times in his life, Malcolm X demonstrated the courage to do what few managed to accomplish even once--he made himself into more than the product of his experience and social conditioning.

Illuminating the slain black leader's personal evolution yields compelling drama as well as historical insight in Darius Wallace's "Moon Over Malcolm, the Transformations of Malcolm X," at the Complex.

In this well-written solo biography, tautly staged by Misty Cholet, Wallace employs carefully researched first-person narrative augmented with poetry and dance to evoke his subject's oppressed youth, criminal past and resurrection as a political force. Particularly effective are the critical turning points--Malcolm's discovery while in prison of a moral foundation in the religion of Islam, and his later break with the isolationist black Muslims in favor of a more expansive social vision.

Wallace finds a powerful metaphor for Malcolm's life in a West African myth about an eagle raised among chickens--built to soar in the heavens but conditioned to stay earthbound--who finally discovers his true nature. The insight carried a heavy price: The play opens and closes on the eve of his assassination, with Malcolm voicing not only his calm certainty that he will be murdered but also his unwillingness to compromise his principles by subjecting his audiences to door searches.

Wallace's focus on Malcolm's inner journey rather than historical detail minimizes the artifice of the solo format. His shifting portrayal of Malcolm as smooth politician, fiery orator and reflective thinker is thoroughly convincing, though occasional detours into other characters are less successful.

Malcolm X believed our race problems wouldn't be solved with legislation but with education. This is a good place to start.

* "Moon Over Malcolm, the Transformations of Malcolm X," Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; call for other dates. Ends Feb. 18. $14. (213) 707-8448. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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