On the surface, a play centering around an abstruse yet fascinating relationship between Muhammad Ali and Stepin Fetchit sounds like a quagmire. Stepin Fetchit, whose real name is Lincoln Perry, is still analogous to Uncle Tom, connoting the worst of kowtowing to white folks sense of humor and sharply contrasting the legend of Muhammad Ali, a black American icon who embodied self-pride.
“Fetch Clay, Make Man” is a new production by Will Power, who explores how these two seemingly polar entities, a generation apart, supported one another navigate stardom and racial politics during the 1960s.
According to the New York Times, the dramatic play insinuates that Fetchit held the clues to a devastating blow — used by early twentieth-century racially-polarizing boxing champion Jack Johnson — called the “anchor punch,” a maneuver Ali said he used against Sonny Liston to produce the aftershock to his first victory over Liston that “shock up the world.”
As that clip illustrated, Ali baffled folks with his wordplay, but his impeccable timing disarmed the most ardent of critics. Similarly, Fetchin meticulous comedic timing made him a legend, setting the tone for most of what see today with Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence. So it doesn’t feel as if these two entertainers were all that different, comedically, but hopefully this play flushes out how politics and race informed their relationship.
If you’re in the New York area, it seems like a must-see.