AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Will Power
Directed by Derrick Sanders
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Boyer Theatre
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA / (415) 388-5208

Reviewed by Judy Richter

After heavyweight champion boxer Cassius Clay had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, death threats caused the promoters to move his much-ballyhooed rematch against Sonny Liston to Lewiston, Maine, in 1965.

Presented by Marin Theatre Company, Will Power's "Fetch Clay, Make Man" goes behind the scenes into Ali's locker room (set by Courtney O'Neill with video by Caite Hevner Kemp) as he prepares for that fight.

He seeks help from an unlikely source -- actor Stepin Fetchit. Fetchit, whose real name was Lincoln Perry, had created a character that was the epitome of stereotype, a lazy, shiftless Negro. Audiences didn't perceive how clever he was, but he was the first black actor to become a millionaire.

Ali invited him to serve as his secret strategist before the fight because he had worked with another famous fighter, Jack Johnson. Ali wants Fetchit to teach him the secret "anchor punch" that Johnson had used so successfully.

Eddie Ray Jackson embodies Ali's dancing footwork as well as his enormous ego. Roscoe Orman is the canny Fetchit, who seems to know the right thing to say and do to protect himself and to defuse some of the play's tensions.

Much of that tension comes from Jefferson A. Russell as the menacing Brother Rashid, Ali's bodyguard and strict adherent to Nation of Islam beliefs. Although the relationship between Ali and his wife, Sonji Clay (Katherine Renee Turner), is loving at first, it becomes more dicey when she refuses to wear Muslim garb for women (costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson) and mentions parts of her past.

Completing the cast is Robert Sicular as William Fox, founder of the Fox movie studio. He's seen in flashbacks as he and Fetchit negotiate the actor's contract.

Each in his own way, Ali and Fetchit represent pioneering black men trying to succeed in American society. Playwright Power and director Derrick Sanders weave their stories and relationship into compelling theater.

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