Fetch Clay, Make Man Review – This Play Packs a Punch

Alexis Floyd, Ray Fisher, Edwin Lee Gibson and Wilkie Ferguson III in FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN - Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography
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First performed in 2010 with a New York premiere in 2013, FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN was penned by Will Power and is a commanding yet also comical story of the unlikely friendship between two men who gained fame and fortune in their respective fields – Muhammad Ali in boxing and Stepin Fetchit in vaudeville and film. Past leading men have included outstanding actors like Ben Vereen. The Kirk Douglas Theatre currently presents this intense and formidable play in 2023.

Ray Fisher and Edwin Lee Gibson – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry) was born in 1902, the first Black actor to have a successful film career – and the first Black actor to become a millionaire in the 1930s. Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) was born in 1941 and became “the greatest” heavyweight champion in 1964 when he was only 22 years old. At first glance, other than race, these two icons appear to have little in common. Yet they became good friends in the 1960s, when Ali, convinced that Fetchit – who had been a close friend of the first heavyweight champion fighter years before – knew something about a secret “anchor punch” which would insure Ali’s victory in the ring.

Wilkie Ferguson III and Alexis Floyd – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

The time is 1964, and the place is Ali’s training site. Ali (Ray Fisher) already won the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in February 1964 and is preparing for a rematch with the former champion in February 1965. Enter the shambling former movie star Fetchit (Edwin Lee Gibson), now 62 and broke, who may just prove to be a foxy character indeed as the tale unfolds. Ali recently converted to Islam and, in so doing, has become the Moslem poster boy for Islamic activism. He is troubled by a number of serious concerns, including the probability of a stronger and smarter opponent in the upcoming match for the heavyweight title, a wife (Sonji Clay/Alexis Floyd) who is proving to be far more worldly than he anticipated, an awakening to Black politics coupled with increasing pressure from his Moslem brothers – especially Brother Rashid (Wilkie Ferguson III) – to become a symbol for the movement, and the need for a magical way to overcome his fears. Of course, history tells us that he will win the match in a fight lasting less than two minutes – but Ali does not know that when he meets the canny Fetchit, a man who has learned to live with and use prejudice to his advantage, a man who knows that his lazy, shuffling mask is just that. A man who hopes to shed his earlier apologetic persona and present a new face to the world.

Wilkie Ferguson III, Ray Fisher, and Edwin Lee Gibson – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Skillful director Debbie Allen has helmed this production with a fascinating combination of reality, fantasy, and humor as the two men gradually become three-dimensional individuals who find something special in a friendship which defies the odds. Both Gibson, who has honed the fine art of nonverbal communication to a tee, and Fisher, who presents as a brash guy who may have more to him, do an excellent job of portraying their respective roles. In fact, all members in the cast do a bang-up job of involving the audience in often funny and sometimes poignant moments. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s scenic design allows for instant scene changes with the help of Pablo N. Molina’s projection designs. Sara Ryung Clement’s costumes, Tom Ontiveros’ lighting, and Lindsay Jones’ sound and composition round out a creative production team. FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN is an excellent, powerful, and not-to-be-missed production. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boxing fan or not. This is a story about clever and creative people and how they cope with the stressful events that life has a way of introducing to all of us. 

Ray Fisher and Edwin Lee Gibson – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN runs through July 16, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $30 to $79. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.


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