Fetch Clay, Make Man by Will Power at Marin Theatre Company Muhammad Ali and Steppin Fetchit on stage at the same time?!
When one thinks about Steppin Fetchit, what probably comes to mind is the worse in the blaksplotation genre in that it proceeds the naming of the phenomena. The actor wasn’t Sambo or Superfly, the first a figment of Hollywood’s imagining, but then Step certainly wasn’t representative of true black genius either or was he?
Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry gave audiences what they wanted—benign blackness, but at what cost? A contemporary of Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, son of former enslaved Africans, what did this say about the legacy Lincoln Perry left, (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5245089) a man who was Johnson’s contemporary?
Will Power’s play, “Fetch Clay, Make Man where he writes in the subtitle: “One snuck in the back door, so the other could walk I the front,” is complicated as are all stories like this; however, the young Muhammad Ali about to fight Sonny Liston a second time wants to speak to Perry about Jack Johnson, whom he heard was Perry’s friend. Perry(actor Roscoe Orman) excited to meet Ali shows up and what unfolds is over the course of the story is a young man confident in his skills as a fighter, yet uncertain about his skills as a husband, a Muslim and a man.
The Ali (actor Eddie Ray Jackson) we meet here is young and naïve, but not so naïve to ignore the hovering vultures who are waiting for his fall. Just married his wife, Sonji Clay (actress Katherine Renee Turner) is not Muslim, but the two love each other. We meet Rashid (actor Jefferson A. Russell), who serves as doorman and body guard.
Everyone wants something from Ali; at one point he asks Perry if he can just be his friend. Ali has heard that Johnson had this magical knockout punch and he wants Perry to teach it to him. Perry denies knowing what Ali wants and refuses—the punch is not something one has to learn. It is a part of our African American legacy.
In Will Powers’s play which looks at the relationship Perry had with Ali, we learn that judgment belongs to the creator, not to creation. Fetch Clay is a libation to Step, the first black Hollywood actor whose career remains unrecognized by those who fail see the man behind the mask.
The play is up at the Marin Theatre company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA (415) 388-5208, through Sept. 7, 2014.