★★★★★ - Irresistible
The LAB LV’s production of THE ROYALE marvelously transports audiences into playwright Marco Ramirez’ stylized and stunning conception of the life of Jack “the Galveston Giant” Johnson. Venture deep into the leading character's psyche, inside the mind of Jay “The Sport” Jackson, (a Johnson surrogate) during a racially segregated 1905 USA, as he dares to change the course of history and become the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the world.
This cathartic, raw theatrical gem runs only through November 24th, at The Playhouse, 528 South Decatur Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89107.
“The Great White Hope,” Howard Sackler’s 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama with a film version starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, focused on the struggles Johnson faced after becoming the first African American heavyweight champion of the world. THE ROYALE, Marco Ramirez’s percussively staged study of the boxer, concerns itself with the difficulties Johnson encountered on his way to the title.
Ben Brantley said of this New York Times Critic's Pick in 2016, "The sweet science of boxing... has seldom been played as quietly or as resonantly as it is in THE ROYALE...That this production never deploys real physical blows in recreating life in the ring is by no means to say that it doesn’t pack a punch."
This production, ingeniously directed by Kate St. Pierre, elevates that artistry by incorporating body percussion composed by Jason Nious, of Molodi, to bring to life a high-energy pugilistic experience that literally puts the audience directly into the ring! A gripping, vivid story performed by an awesome ensemble of actors.
The action is six intense rounds of riveting storytelling, body percussion, and emotional right hooks... that raises complex questions about racism in America and what it means to fight, win and lose, both personally and as a society.
Jay “The Sport” Jackson dreams of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. But it’s 1905, and in the racially segregated world of boxing, his chances are as good as knocked out. When a crooked boxing promoter hatches a plan for “the fight of the century,” “The Sport” just might land a place in the ring with the reigning white heavyweight champion.
Through the sights and sounds of the early 20th Century boxing circuit, THE ROYALE examines society’s relationship with our present-day cultural heroes and the responsibilities that are thrust upon them when they find themselves outside of the ropes. Loosely based on real events, the production brings to explosive life the ultimate fight for a place in history, strongly and soulfully presented by a terrific company.
Mario Peoples (JAY, "The Negro Heavyweight Champion"), winningly portrays the leading character's physical prowess and psyche. Mervin Alexander (his 50-year old trainer, Wynton), is the obedient conscience and boxing wisdom behind the champ. Jamey Clay-Brown (an 18-year old amateur boxer named Fish) is youthfully wide-eyed and ambitious. Nate Marbel (Max, the white fight promoter and referee), dances gracefully around the realities of prizefighting in the early 20th century.
Sabrina Cofield (Nina, Jay’s older sister), pulls no punches as the boxer’s greatest adversary and strongest motivation -- afraid of the dire consequences, both for her race and her own family, should Jay win the title.
Director, Kate St-Pierre, ingeniously partners with Jason Nious, of Molodi, to incorporate body percussion “As a metaphor, to simulate the nature of the original Royale boxing matches during a segregated America; when young black boys were pitted against each other in rings; bare-knuckled and blindfolded, and forced to fight for the entertainment of the onlookers.”
Scenic Designer, Tim Burris, has created a thrust stage, allowing the audience to sit “ringside” on three sides of the action as we travel to various cities in the US between 1905 and 1910. Costume Designer, Dustin Shaffer, has fashioned period clothes appropriate to the time. Nina’s stylish dress is the most eye-catching element – the vibrant color of dried blood. Lighting Designer, Dave Clark, fittingly accentuates the action throughout.
The physical aspects of THE ROYALE are important, but playwright Ramirez’s primary concern was respecting Johnson’s legacy.
“I was really sensitive knowing how important this story was in African-American history,” Ramirez says. “But I wanted poetic license. This play is inspired by Jack Johnson. I changed the character’s name not for legal protection but for creative protection so I could do what I wanted with the story, so I would not feel irresponsible changing history. I wasn’t interested in the biopic version. If anything, this play takes place during only one year of his life. I loved the way the film Selma did that with Martin Luther King Jr. It didn’t follow the entire journey, just gave you the tip of the iceberg. And you understand the iceberg."
Marco Ramirez has had plays produced at Lincoln Center Theater, The Kennedy Center, The Humana Festival, The Old Globe (San Diego), The Bush Theatre (London), American Theater Company (Chicago), Soulpepper (Toronto) and Center Theatre Group (LA). Honors include Helen Hayes and Drama Desk nominations, the Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Playwriting Award, Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellowship, Lincoln Center’s Le Comte du Nouy Award, and TCG’s Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Marco is also a WGA and Emmy Award-nominated TV writer and producer, where his credits include Marvel’s DAREDEVIL (Netflix), Marvel's THE DEFENDERS (Netflix), SONS OF ANARCHY (FX), ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix), and FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (AMC).
THE ROYALE premiered at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles, CA in April 2013. The script feels timeless in its use of a boxing battle as the means to investigate the fight for equity in America.
The Great White Hope, is a 1967by Howard Sackler, later adapted as a film, is loosely based on the life of turn-of-the-century African American boxer Jack Johnson. The title refers to the hopes some fans had for a white boxer to end Johnson’s reign as heavyweight champion and is a symbol of racism and suppression. Written in three acts, The Great White Hope covers the years from 1908 to 1915 and centers on fictional heavyweight boxing champion Jack Jefferson.