'And In This Corner … Cassius Clay' Presents Ali as The Greatest In A Family-Friendly Play
It’s only 80 minutes long, and the comedy and action in “And In This Corner … Cassius Clay” are almost always accessible to children. But the high polish and professionalism in this story of boxer Muhammad Ali (in his youth) makes it great fun for grown-ups too.
Trigney Morgan is excellent as the boyish version of the legendary fighter: Cassius Clay Jr., before he converted to Islam in the 1960s, and changed his name. And Idris Goodwin’s script gives him plenty of “The Greatest’s” familiar verse in his everyday speech, though it’s nicely underplayed. After graduating high school, Cassius wins big at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Later, what happens to his gold medal, even older audiences may have forgotten—though its fate only adds to the legend.
Director Julia Flood has assembled an fine supporting cast, and given them the freedom to be smooth and natural, drawing us in: including Jaz Tucker as a friend who seamlessly brings the civil rights struggle into the story; and David Wassilak is a far-sighted policeman in the “Jim Crow” Louisville of the 1950s, who steers the 12-year old Cassius into boxing initially.
Carl Overly Jr. provides a lot of the comedy as a great, lumbering bully in Clay’s neighborhood. (The various boxing scenes with Mr. Morgan, Mr. Overly and Erik Kuhn are stylishly choreographed by Drew Fracher.) Nicholas Tayborn is hilarious as Cassius’ brother, and his parents are nicely played by Phillip Dixon and the always-splendid Jeanitta Perkins.
Scenes and computer projections and boxing shadows on scrims come and go like magic, adding to the visual excitement. The ending seems a bit abrupt: we finish suddenly at the Clay/Liston match, but never get to the more complex clash between Islam and the Vietnam war. It’s just as well, the kids in the audience with me seemed delighted by the show, but an hour and twenty minutes is an eternity to most of them. Even in that brief time, the whole experience is rich entertainment, and gives a good message to the kids (and grown-ups): train hard and believe in yourself.