THE ROYALE by Marco Ramirez. Directed by Darryl V. Jones. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 510.843.4042 or www.auroratheatre.org.
November 3 – December 3, 2017 EXTENDED THRU DECEMBER 10.
The Royale is a knock out with no physical punches thrown. Rating:
There are times when a theatrical production has all the qualities to earn a spontaneous standing ovation. On opening night Aurora Theatre’s presentation of Marco Ramirez’s The Royale was one of those times. It presents a boxing play without a single punch striking an opponent yet evokes the brutality within the ring through choreography and sound. Within that framework is woven the social injustice heaped upon blacks through normal dialog without didactics and through verbalization of internal thoughts with an occasional personal monolog.
The play was inspired by the life and career of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. The time of the play is the early 1900s when Jim Crowism was rampant and the heavy weight world of boxing was the domain of white men including Jim Jefferies who was revered and retired. Ramirez’s protagonist is Jay “The Sport” Jackson (Calvin M. Thompson) whose physical ability and egoism propels him to the top of the boxing world.
After an inauspicious first scene with unidentified characters sitting on a wooden tier on the back wall of the three sided stage the action moves into the implied “ring” lined with distressed wooden planks. The fighters never face each other and their stinging shadow boxing type blows are accentuated by sharp hand clapping, foot stopping, drum beats and music.
The first boxing match is between Jay and a novice called Fish (Satchel Andre) whose innate skills earned him the job of travelling sparring partner for Jay and his coach Wynton (Donald E. Lacy Jr.). Lacy gives a heart wrenching monolog decrying the barbaric matches of his youth called the “Royale.” As described by Wynton it was a bare-knuckled, back-alley free-for-all where black men clobbered each other senseless for the entertainment of Southern whites. The last man standing was the winner and could collect the coins thrown at them.
The consequence of Jay’s rise to the top had national significance inciting mob violence. On a personal level there was physical abuse by whites of his sister Nina’s (Atim Udoffia) children. She also admonished his egoism as he always “picked the apple from the top of the tree.”
The last character (s) in Jay’s journey are the promotor needed to set up the match and the newsmen needed for the publicity Tim Kniffen plays all these roles with his usual professionalism.
The final boxing match of the evening for the heavy weight title was brilliantly and stylistically performed with Nina symbolically voicing Jay’s thoughts as the punches are thrown and the stomping and clapping reach a crescendo.
The physical stature of Calvin M. Thompson and Satchel Andre are perfect for their roles and their acting, punching and footwork under Darryl V. Jones’ tight and inventive staging shows a touch of brilliance. When Atim Udollia is “in the ring” she dominates the stage.
Running time is a taut 90 minutes and The Royale is a knock out must she show.
CAST: Tim Kniffin, as MAX; Donald E. Lacy, Jr. as WYNTON; Calvin M. Thompson as JAY; Satchel Andre as FISH; Atim Udoffia as NINA
CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic Designer, Richard Olmsted; Costume Designer, Courtney Flores; Lighting Designer, Kurt Landisman; Sound Designer, James Ard; Props Master, Sarah Katsuleres; Stage Manager, Susan M. Reamy; Boxing Coach & Co-Choreographer, Joe Orrach.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.
(L) Calvin M. Thompson as Jay “The Sport” Jackson; (L seated) Donald E. Lacy, Jr. as Wynton, (L center) Tim Kniffin as Max, (R seated) Atim Udoffia as Nina, and (R) Satchel André as Fish in The Royale by Marco Ramirez. Photo by David Allen.