(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Intrigued by a photograph he ran across 8 years ago showing Stepin Fetchit next to Muhammad Ali at the press conference preceding Ali's 1965 rematch with Sonny Liston, playwright Will Power began to research what might have brought such an unlikely pair together. In this ambitious comic drama, now in a first-rate production at New York Theatre Workshop, Power imagines the story behind the picture. Without giving too much away, let me just say that both men, Fetchit (K. Todd Freeman), the actor reviled for making a career out of playing a submissive Negro and Ali (Ray Fisher), the boxer reviled for being a braggart and a Black Muslim, think they have something to gain from their time together. Brother Rashid (John Earl Jelks), Ali's tightly-wound bodyguard, is determined to prevent anything from tarnishing Ali as the poster boy for the Nation of Islam. The resistance of Ali's beautiful wife Sonji (Nikki M. James) to following the harsh strictures on Muslim women is such a threat. Another imminent threat is the possibility that supporters of the recently assassinated Malcolm X might target Ali. The scenes that take place the week before the fight are intertwined with flashbacks to moments in Fetchit's Hollywood years and his relations with William Fox (Richard Masur), head of Fox Films. This does not always work to the play's advantage. Nevertheless, I am not going to quibble about a play that has so much energy, such a fine cast and an absolutely superb production. Ricardo Hernandez's elegantly simple set, Paul Tazewell's costumes, Howell Binkley's lighting, Peter Nigrini's projections, and Des McAnuff's smooth direction are all exemplary. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes including intermission. NOTE: I strongly urge to to take a look at NYTW's online resource "The Brief" [briefnytw.tumblr.com] for valuable background information before you see the play.