“Fetch Clay, Make Man” at the New York Theatre Workshop

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The New York Theatre Workshop is a 199 seat theater in the East Village.  Cutting edge shows such as “Rent” and “Peter and the Starcatcher” first started there.  “Fetch Clay, Make Man” is opening their new season and what a show it is!

Cassius Clay, also known as Muhammad Ali, has a huge upcoming fight in May of 1965.  In the days leading up to it, he forms a friendship with Stepin Fetchit, a controversial Hollywood actor.  Their unique bond is a sight to see.

The thrust stage was an ideal setting for this particular play.  The beautiful red upholstered chairs and brick walls were esthetically pleasing.  Since I sat in the center looking straight at the actors, I enjoyed watching audience reactions to the content being presented.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  The stage itself was pure white with bulbs illuminating the floor from under the stage.  A bench, two tables, two chairs and a door were the only set pieces.  It was a clean cut space and was perfect for the play.

Muhammad Ali’s beliefs were brought up many times during the show.  There seemed to be many struggles between his faith, his profession, his wife and his friends.  He was a true Muslim man but was disappointed when his wife did not adhere to the same rules he did.  On the other hand, Stepin Fetchit was a Christian so they had some conversations about their different faiths.

There are times I see shows and think “this role was made for them.”  Ray Fisher who played Muhammad Ali was one of those people.  He was light on his feet, interesting to listen to and assumed the role of a boxer.  He was in the zone both as an actor and fighter.  K. Todd Freeman who played Stepin Fetchit did a nice job with his role.  My favorite moments were when he spoke up about his thoughts and did little dance numbers.  He could be very serious and yet playful.  The stern Brother Jacob X, did a great job as the bodyguard.  He was serious and knew how to carry himself.  Finally, Nikki M. James who played Sonji, Muhammad Ali’s wife, was on point.  She didn’t have much stage time but when she was on, she was present and articulate.  All of her costumes with matching shoes and purses were perfect for the period.

In fact, all of the costumes by Paul Tazewell should be noted.  Sonji was the most colorful of all of the characters.  While the bodyguards wore black suits and Muhammad Ali wore dark colors, she stood out.  Attention to detail was made when Muhammad wore his boxing shoes.  Different colors, different warm up clothes and a suit during his press engagement scene.  Also, the sound design by Darron L West was spectacular.  The song choices and position of them for scene changes were great.

Fetch Clay, Make Man” is a show I would recommend.  It is playing now through October 13th.  Get your tickets here: http://www.nytw.org/season.asp

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