An Audacious Production of Fetch Clay, Make Man
Cassius Clay recently converted to Islam and has became Muhammad Ali. The champion is preparing for his heavyweight rematch with Sonny Liston. He has formed an unlikely friendship with The Stepin Fetchit character was described as "the laziest man in the world," and the actor was called a racial traitor and an "Uncle Tom" for the "chitlin' circuit" vaudeville and minstrel show character. However, as he tells Ali, "I snuck in the back door so you could walk in the front". (He was the first black actor to receive a featured screen credit and to become a millionaire.)
Muhammad Ali is nervous about the rematch with Liston, who is better prepared, and also about the controversy surrounding his recent conversion. It is known that Liston has mob connections and the training camp is under tight security. Stepin Fetchit had been a very close friend to another boxing legend, Jack Johnson, who had a secret "phantom punch." Muhammad Ali wants that secret.
Eddie Ray Jackson (Fences at MTC and Pen/man/ship at the Magic) beautifully morphs into Muhammad Ali in both body language and speech, giving a charismatic performance as the fighter shadow boxes, bobs his head, sasses and brags, then turns serious at a moment's notice. When he says "I am the greatest," you swear it is the real Muhammad Ali talking.
Roscoe Orman (known for his four decades as "Gordon" on "Sesame Street") gives a superb performance as Stepin Fetchit. In the first scene he does a brilliant Fetchit movie routine. There are several scenes that go back to the early '30s with his talks with William Fox, head of 20th Century Fox, showing that the actor was an intense businessman. Robert Sicular is excellent as William Fox.
Katherine Renee Turner gives a stunning performance as the self-assumed Sonji, Ali's first wife, rising up against the Black Muslims' constraint on women. Jefferson A. Russell is a powerful, simmering presence as Ali's appointed bodyguard. He intensifies the fundamental attempt to control the life of Ali to be a good Muslim.
Director Derrick Sanders keeps the action moving speedily. There is a clever, rapid succession of projected historical images wrapping around Courtney O'Neill's solid locker-room box set.
Fetch Clay, Make Man plays through September 7, 2014, at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. California. For tickets 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. Coming up next is Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale opening on October 2nd and running through October 26th.