The Royale playing at ACT Theater through October 9th is a clean and clever play where metaphor rules in unusual and relevant variations. A play that takes place in a boxing ring which is the metaphor of the conflict of racism being contained; and, the fighting and bloodshed over skin color and equality that is the history of this country. The audience joins in right away and the feel and thrill of being ringside sweeps you up – makes you a party to the action and then a silent observer to realities that hit with a one-two punch.
The intellectual reeling that results is carried out on stage by the actor’s movements – again metaphors as not one real punch is ever thrown throughout the entire play. Marco Ramirez (Orange is the New Black and other popular TV and film projects…currently on contract with Marvel TV) writes what he knows – he claims it was subliminally clothed in the fictionalized story of John Arthur “Jack” Jackson who become the first black heavy weight champion during the Jim Crow years.
The clapping, chanting, choreography, and cadence reminds one of a beating heart…and breath…of life. The life of a struggle for equality that is a cruel double-edged sword…that to lift even one man up, to attempt to even think to try to change cultural views and values takes a toll on those that fight (metaphor!) on those with hope a new day is dawning and those to afraid and beaten down to even try.
Directed aptly by drummer, choreographer Ameenah Kaplan, “[the play]…incorporates movement and rhythm based choreography…” according to the ACT. Kaplan explains: “It touches us viscerally and perhaps that is why rhythm works do well at bringing people together – because it’s just fundamental to being human. The theme of the play is about the divisive and deadly nature of racism. It’s meant to make us think and maybe teach us a lesson. What better way to unite an audience in thought and feeling than through rhythm?” Credit for all those things coming together in this production go to: Sharath Patel who put the sound design (with Kaplan) into place through the rehearsal process with the actors, boxing coach Chris Dennis and Kaplan who brings an extensive choreography background with her to this play.
The entire cast is very good: Jarrod M. Smith as Jay Jackson, Lorenzo Roberts as Fish, Zenobia Taylor as Nina, R. Hamilton Wright as Max and G. Valmont Thomas as Wynton. This is the type of play (and theme) that depends on that: timing, cooperation and collaboration (another metaphor).
G. Valmont Thomas,Wynton; Lorenzo Roberts, Fish and Jarrod M Smith as
Jay Jackson, R. Hamilton Wright as Max. Photo: Dawn Schaefer
The fights on stage between: the white capitalistic manager and the black boxing champ, between the boxer and his sister (standing in for the blacks who have lost their courage for freedom by being crudely beaten down, controlled and kept in their place by fear), by the boxer and his inner self and his black manager, the boxer and the next generation – it all represents the struggles of Sally Hemings, Dread Scot, the Jim Crow laws, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King. Each era one round just like this six round boxing match where victory always meets bloodshed and loss on some real level for someone before a cultural shift of acceptance is ever realized and true victory is achieved with an actual paradigm shift.
This is a neat little package of a play, in ninety minutes it quickly moves along without intermission, with its talented and tightly directed cast using simple effective theatrics and props. You will like the play, love this production, enjoy the relevant and fun curtain call and leave the theater bizarrely happy-go-lucky. Just be prepared…for the realizations that may hit hard once you are outside on the street. Get Tickets!
Parking is easy and a bargain $8 at the Convention Center Parking.
Added bonus: The Cheesecake Factory is just up the street and rated well on Tripadvisor. We popped in spur of the moment and enjoyed comparing notes about the play over the pear, arugula, pecan, blue cheese flatbread, avocado toast, and the excellent beet French salad. We finished with the lemon meringue cheesecake – excellent. We got in right away on a Thursday night – not sure about the week-ends. It is a large space. You can seat yourself at tables in the bar for the same service and menu. There is happy hour 4-6pm Monday-Friday which would work for some shows! Be warned the menu is like a book, the portions very large. We had the wonderful knowing guidance of Tim, our waiter, (who told us of specials and favorites of his and popular items, who advised and warned us we were ordering a lot of food…and, even then, secretly held back ordering our entrée to be sure we were not full before he sent the order in)…and, alas we were – stuffed! He smiled and kindly brought forth the coffee, tea and cheesecake. Thank you, Tim! Best waiter we ever had! The bill was reasonable the tip was high – on purpose!