The historical drama draws its inspiration from a peculiar event from the Civil Rights Era: a press conference at which heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, né Cassius Clay, introduced his “secret strategy man” – the former Hollywood comedic actor Stepin Fetchit, né Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry.
The play was written by San Francisco native and hip-hop theater pioneer Will Power and directed by Derrick Sanders (MTC’s Fences, April 2014). The latest collaboration between MTC and Sanders is the play’s West Coast premiere as part of a bi-coastal co-production with Maryland’s Round House Theatre, where the play will continue after it ends its MTC run on September 7.
“We are delighted to welcome back to Mill Valley Derrick Sanders, the incredible director who helmed our fantastic production of Fences last season,” MTC Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis says. “He has brought together a wonderful cast of actors to tell San Francisco native Will Power’s story of Ali and Step and the powerful battle that raged in the mid-1960s, both inside the ring and outside in the world.
Fetch Clay, Make Man examines black identity in the U.S. through the unlikely friendship between two African-American icons who became inseparable from their public personas. Ali, “The People’s Champion,” was viewed as a racial hero for embracing black pride (and white antagonism); Fetchit, “The Laziest Man in the World,” as a racial traitor for his “chitlin’ circuit” vaudeville and minstrel show character (that was so popular he became the first black actor to receive a featured screen credit).
Fetch Clay, Make Man takes place in the run-up to the controversial 1965 rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, which famously ended after Liston went down less than two minutes into the first round after a “phantom punch” that few saw delivered by Ali. The play puts that infamous fight in the background, with the imagined drama taking place in Ali’s dressing room at the fore.
From the shadow boxing of personalities between Ali and Stepin Fetchit, whom Ali has brought in to teach him heavyweight champion Jack Johnson’s “anchor punch,” to the struggle of Ali and his wife with their new life in the Nation of Islam, “plenty of verbal punches are thrown” in this “eye-popping [and] intriguing” (The New York Times) new play that is also a “fascinating [and] bracing look at the politics of identity” (Backstage.com).
Fetch Clay, Make Man premiered in 2010 at the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey and received its second production at New York Theatre Workshop in August 2013. Born in Harlem and raised in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, playwright Will Power “has been hailed by critics as ‘the best verse playwright in America’ and is known for bridging the gap between contemporary hip-hop and performance theater” (Dallas Magazine).
The 411: The production of Fetch Clay, Make Man will run for a limited engagement of 29 performances from August 14 through September 7. Opening night is Tuesday, August 19. Marin Theatre Company is located at 397 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley. Click here to buy tickets.