Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The story is set between 1905 and 1910. Jay Jackson (Preston Butler III) has a life goalto be the world heavyweight boxing champion. However, the white boxers won't fight him. Jay's manager Max (Leo Marks), a white man, works to get Jay the fight, which he thinks will change his life and the direction of boxing. Jay has two staff members, Wynton (Brian D. Coats) and Fish (Johnny Ramey), who help with his training. They give advice and spend a good deal of their time talking about race relations in the United States and race relations in the various sports worlds. Jay's sister Nina (Nikkole Salter) struggles to keep her son safe in a white-dominated country. Jay helps support his sister and nephew, while struggling with financial issues. However, the story is set in the early twentieth century when many people had financial issues.
These people live lives challenged by pistols and rifles. Jay thinks if he wins this special boxing match against the champion, he will not have financial problems and he won't have race relations issues.
The cast is excellent. Each character has a desire or a want. Each character changes or evolves, but these changes may be brought about by Jay's boxing matches. Jay is known for winning his matches with other black fighters, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why he doesn't get the matches with white fighters.
Cuban-American playwright Marco Ramirez wrote that what was not necessary he cut from the script. And, indeed, this is one of the tightest scripts I've seen onstage. Robert Barry Fleming complements the writing with beautiful, tight directing. The set is a hexagon-shaped boxing arena, with the audience seated around the ring. The cast clap their hands to a rhythmic beat called Krump. This street rhythm was taught to the cast by Javion Allen and Keith J. Benford.
The character of Jay Jackson was inspired by real boxer Jack Johnson. The program includes short biographies of black sports royalty: Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Jim Brown and, of course, LeBron James.
The Royale is a stunning production that should not be missed.
The Royale, through May 27, 2018, at Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH. For ticket information call 216-241-6000 or on your computer visit clevelandplayhouse.com.