March 14, 2016
Inside the boxing ring careers are made and social mores challenged. In Marco Ramirez’s riveting play “The Royale” at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, might meets racism.
Predominantly performed inside a boxing ring designed by Nick Vaughan and searing lighting by Austin R. Smith, the young, up-and-coming boxer Fish (McKinely Belcher III) lands the job of sparring with the imposing heavyweight boxing champion Jay (Khris Davis) better known as “Sport” in the early 20th century. Highly disciplined, Jay ruled the rings in his flashy outfits and demeaning punches. Determined to be a major player in the ring, Fish realizes games are fixed, while agents steal in an industry that allows blacks in but doesn’t accept them.
Director Rachel Chavkin’s intricately choreographed passages spur the riveting action and story line that references America’s famous African-American world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (check out “Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”). Percussive stomps punctuate the workouts sessions, which serve as the exchange of young black man’s optimism and a seasoned winner’s cynicisms. Trainer Wynton (Clark Peters) functions as the black American chorus. Aware of his fighter’s talents, he’s fearful of white America’s brutal claim on black heroes.
On the other side of ring is the white agent Max (John Lavelle)
who tries to play both sides of the racial divide. Max’s deals are constantly challenged by “Sport” who refuses to “throw” a fight. In the process, America’s insidious Jim Crow era is on cruel display.
The 90 minute drama packs one of the most powerful punches of the theater season for its contained bombast and expressive truth.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis