“There are two types of fighters in this world. There’s the fighter who fights for himself, and there is the fighter who fights for those who can’t. Which one are you gonna be?”
When Cassius Clay’s childhood friend Eddie posed the question to him in Metro Theater Company’s production of “And In This Corner…Cassius Clay,” the rising star defiantly proclaims that he will be both.
The future boxing icon – which the world would later come to know as Muhammad Ali – went above and beyond his original promise.
With Idris Goodwin’s play, Metro Theater Company gives local young people an opportunity to see him lay the foundation to do so – and offers teachable moments about the Civil Rights Movement that ran parallel to Clay’s formative years in his native Louisville Kentucky. The play will continue through February 28 at The Missouri History Museum.
“We wanted a play where people would both recognize themselves and want to be more than they are,” said Julia Flood, the play’s director and Metro Theater Company’s artistic director.
Clay found his passion early in life through boxing. But as a young boy growing up on the cusp of one of the nation’s most tumultuous and polarizing times in the Jim Crow South, he had to fight harder to be seen as worthy of basic human rights than he ever did in the ring.
Through the play, audiences will see how his sport and his circle of friends influenced him to use his platform to express black pride and demand racial equality. They will also get snapshots chronicling his ascension through Louisville’s local youth boxing scene and a national champion on the amateur side of the sport. The play covers the period in Clay’s life from the moment he discovered boxing to his return from the Rome Olympics in 1960.
The post-script for Clay’s Olympic victory is not unlike other African American athletes prior to the Civil Rights Movement. They shined when selected to represent America on a global stage, but returned to the sober reality of being treated as second-class citizens instead of American heroes. According to the play, that experience for Clay was the defining moment where his passion created the path to his purpose.
Before Rome, activism took a backseat to athleticism. Afterwards, he boldly displayed his blackness inside and outside of the ring and became a champion of the people as well as his sport’s most famous Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Led by Trigney Morgan as Cassius Clay, “And In This Corner” consists of a well-meshed ensemble of actors to bring Clay’s story to life.
Morgan proves up for the challenge in the anchor role – including Goodwin’s twist to give the audience additional insight on the thoughts and feelings of young Clay.
Monologues are delivered in the signature rhyme style that made Clay a media sensation – probably to break the monotony of a traditional play for the sake of the attention span of the young audience.
There’s an authentic chemistry among the cast, specifically Clay’s nuclear family (Phillip Dixon as Cassius Clay, Sr. Jeanitta Perkins as Odessa Clay and Nicolas Tayborn as Rudy Clay).
Carl Overly resonated especially well with the crowd for providing comic relief as the neighborhood bully Corky Baker, who actually helped Clay build his confidence in the ring.
The ultimate take away is to encourage the audience to use life’s obstacles to channel their inner champion – which resides in everyone –and fight for what’s right.
Metro Theater Company’s production of “And In This Corner…Cassius Clay” continues through February 28 (Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.) at the Missouri History Museum. For tickets or more information, visit www.metroplays.org or www.mohistory.org.