Review Roundup: FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN
In the days leading up to one of Cassius Clay's most anticipated fights, the heavyweight boxing champion forms an unlikely friendship with the controversial Hollywood star Stepin Fetchit. With a rhythmic script by award-winning performer and playwright Will Power, who received rave reviews for his hip-hop productions of Flow and The Seven at NYTW, and direction by Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (The Who's Tommy, Jersey Boys), FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN explores the improbable bond that forms between two drastically different and influential cultural icons. One a vibrant and audacious youth, the other a resentful and almost forgotten relic, together as they fight to form their public personas and shape their legacies amidst the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960s. This true story is as powerful and poetic as Clay himself while also humorous and irreverent like Fetchit's signature act. Finding commonality in contradiction, FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN examines the true meaning of strength, resilience and pride.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: K. Todd Freeman offers an immensely memorable performance as Fetchit, opening the play with a taste of the man's screen persona in his heyday ("I don't know anybody'll mind if I stay over here and take a nap. I'm just so tired from sleepin'... I don't think the boss'll have to know... ") performed with the kind of conspiratorial confidence that tells us we're to take the routine on his own terms. When he arrives at the Ali camp he is a shy and broken man accustomed to being looked at with scorn by people of his own race, but when it becomes apparent that the youngster intends to use him without acknowledging the sacrifices he made for black men like him, Freeman's buildup of Fetchit's angry demand for respect is thrilling to experience.
Charles Isherwood, New York Times: Throughout "Fetch Clay," you can feel Mr. Power studiously diagraming exactly how the play's themes - of authenticity and identity, of the internal and external conflicts faced by prominent African-Americans in a racist culture - will play out in dramatic terms. And yet as the atmosphere grows tense, the confrontations feel forced. The second act consists of a series of shouty head-to-head arguments - between just about every possible combination of the four central figures - that grow tedious.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: A fascinating, little-known historical episode is explored to arresting if not particularly deep effect in Will Power's new drama about the unlikely friendship between Muhammad Ali and African-American screen icon Stepin Fechit. Set in 1965 when Ali was preparing for his famed rematch with Sonny Liston, Fetch Clay, Make Man delivers enough theatrical fireworks to compensate for its thematic weaknesses. This crowd-pleasing production by the New York Theatre Workshop seems a strong candidate for a Broadway transfer.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: After you leave the New York Theatre Workshop's super-slick Off Broadway production of Fetch Clay, Make Man - playwright Will Power's truth-based account of the 1965 meeting and burgeoning friendship of boxer Muhammad Ali and faded movie star Stepin Fetchit - you're sure to find yourself Googling Fetchit. That's partly because he's a fascinating, divisive figure: He was the first black film actor to receive a screen credit, but he made his name, and his millions, by playing a then-comic stereotype - the lazy, slow-witted ''shufflin' coon'' (Power's words). It's also because K. Todd Freeman, despite being a shade too young for the role, plays him to near perfection, with an almost impossibly empathetic mix of hubris and self-loathing. Unfortunately, the other reason you're liable to turn to Google is that after more than two hours, Will Power's play teaches us precious little about Fetchit.