By Holli Harms
Director Rachel Chavkin has set the pace for Marco Ramirez’s play, The Royale, with claps and stomps, creating visceral partners between words and movement and making us the plays sparring partner. Her brilliant staging, mustered with Ramirez’s story and the flowing connected ensemble of this marvelous cast is like watching a jazz band riff off of each other. They are flying and we get to fly with them. Lighting by Austin R. Smith and set by Nick Vaughan are bare and bright and alive. The entire theater is surrounded by lights that enhance each punch, each blow, so that we are part of the beating heart that is The Royale.
The play opens with a boxing match, the champ, Jay “The Sport” Jackson (Khris Davis), against the novice, Fish (McKinley Belcher III). It is a fist fight, hand to hand, human to human and you feel the blows and punches, but neither actor ever makes contact with the other.
The staging of the match is phenomenal, stark, symbolic and poetic.
The play is based loosely on the Johnson-Jeffries fight, known as the “Fight of the Century” in 1910. The great black fighter Jack Johnson coaxed James Jeffries, the undisputed white heavy weight champ of the world, out of retirement to fight him. Johnson beat Jeffries fair and square making him the Champ and causing riots and lynchings in cities across the U.S. That win for a man of color was a roundhouse that turned the country topsy-turvy. The story playing out at The Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center conjures that chaos but it also conjures the inner turmoil of the “character” of Jay Jackson. He is not fighting with just the flesh of his fists, but fighting with himself, with a part of his past he can never let go, and with a time where the color of his skin was a sin to be feared.
“A boxer’s victory is gained in blood” and all of it not necessarily his own or his opponent’s.
Go! Get a ticket! Run to The Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center! Don’t wait until it’s too late!
THE ROYALE by Marco Ramirez, Directed by Rachel Chavkin
WITH: McKinley Belcher III (Fish), Khris Davis (Jay), Montego Glover (Nina), John Lavelle (Max), Clarke Peters ( Wynton)
Sets by Nick Vaughan, Costumes by Dede M. Ayite, Lighting by Austin R. Smith, Sound by Matt Hubbs, Stage Manager: Karyn Meek
Mitzi E. Newhhouse Theatre At Lincoln Center; The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater is located at 150 West 65th St. LCT.org.