Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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There aren’t many who can bear the burden of being responsible for virtually every aspect of production.  It can prove suicidal because the result, be it success or failure, is all pinned on that one person responsible.  In the case of Clay, Matt Sax wrote, scored and performed this New Works Program production and, by assuming this gargantuan responsibility, Sax gave himself unlimited liability if the production were to fail.  However, such a disaster didn’t occur and Clay, despite having a predictable plot, succeeds in being an original, enjoyable production.
Clay is a performance with only one actor, that being Matt Sax.  Sax primarily plays the roles of a young boy named Clifford, his hip-hop teacher, father, mother, and stepmother.  The plot revolves around Clifford using hip-hop to escape his domestic troubles.  Given this synopsis, the plot seems quite generic, which it somewhat is.  While one cannot say that the story is unoriginal, it provides no surprises throughout the duration of the play.  However, by breaking chronological order and following a circular style of storytelling, Clay’s predictability never becomes unbearable.
Still, dwelling on the plot of Clay is inconsequential because plot is not what makes Clay great.  This is a play entirely dependent on the acting, something Matt Sax does extremely well.  Sax’s biggest accomplishment is being able to successfully portray so many different personalities without ever having the time to change his makeup or costume.  When Sax portrays Clifford, there is that lack of confidence and suppressed anger in his voice suited for a boy with such a troubled past.  When he is Clifford’s father, Sax’s voice becomes instantly snide and sarcastic.  When Sir John is on stage, the actor sounds like a stereotypical inner city inhabitant.  Similarly, the grief in his mother’s voice and the flirtatiousness in his stepmother’s are equally well captured.  Moreover, Sax not only captures the sounds and tones of the characters but the mannerisms as well.  The way the businessman crosses his legs every time he sits, the playfulness with which the stepmother strips her clothes, and the desperation with which the mother smokes a cigarette all represent the minute details that Sax successfully captures in each and every performance.
The music and dialogue, just as impressive as the acting, lends the play its hip-hop tone without ever feeling gratuitous.  The offensive, rebellious soundtrack and language creates an atmosphere that reflects the anger and hatred within Clifford.  In fact, this is one instance where the music, while not necessarily advancing the plot, acts much like a soliloquy and develops the character’s inner thoughts and makes them visible to the audience.
Clay is, without a doubt, very well done.  This play shows that hip-hop goes beyond its stereotype of vulgarity and can genuinely be considered a viable option for theater production in the years to come. There is something for preferring the classics but if this play is any indication, contemporary art is not lacking.