Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The RoyaleAmerican Stage
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Aygemang Clay
Photo by Joey Clay Photography
American Stage has chosen We the People as this season's theme. The first play of the season, Marco Ramirez' The Royale, tells us that we the people will fight for our rightful place, as it examines racism in early 20th century America through the story, loosely based on the life of boxer Jack Johnson, of a boxer named Jay Jackson. A very different play, The Great White Hope, followed Johnson's drive to become the first black man to hold the boxing title of world heavyweight champion. Ramirez uses the same basic story as he examines the racism that Jackson has to push against.

American Stage fields an excellent cast. More and more, we are seeing Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte building a relationship with actors and other theater professionals to create a family within this company. Aygemang Clay gives a fine performance as Jay, physically pent up from both the ring and being held back, but forced to put on a great big smile for the press and public. Richard B. Watson returns in the role of fight promoter Max, after two fine performances last season. This performance best shows his range, a bit smarmy when pushed to buck the institutional racism that denies Jay his chances, but honestly trying to give his all, promoting Jay's career. Kim Sullivan returns after being in all 10 of the August Wilson Century Cycle plays in the role of Jay's trainer, Wynton. Rich Lowe is Jay's sparring partner Fish and Rokia Shearin makes a fine impression as Jay's sister Nina, the moral conscious of the piece. Tato Castillo and Tarilabo Koripamo are the apprentice ensemble.

Director Lisa Tricomi has been a regular presence in the area, both as director and as an actress, but I have not crossed paths with her before. She does an excellent job drawing fine performances from her cast and staging fight sequences that are not fight sequences at all, so the squeamish need not stay away. Costumes by Trish Kelley are period accurate, including a hideous oversized wig for Nina. Jerid Fox's scenic design (he is also properties master) is effective if non-specific in terms of time and place. The rear wall, full of light bowls that flash in various combinations to suggest picture taking by the press, is less effective for me. Joseph Oshry's lighting pulls together a play that is a bit sprawling in theatrics if not length (70 minutes). Benjamin T. Ismail, who is going to be all over this company this season, has designed the sound, and Carolina Esparza is credited as movement and sound percussion coach.

The Royale is a terrific play, evidenced by its being produced all over the country a mere two years after a Lincoln Center production in New York. It effectively examines racism in a historical setting. It is a worthy opening to the 2017-18 season at American Stage.

The Royale runs through October 15, 2017, at American Stage Theatre Company, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.

Cast: Jay: Aygemang Clay
Wynton: Kim Sullivan
Nina: Rokia Shearin
Fish: Rich Lowe
Max: Richard B. Watson
Apprentice Ensemble: Toto Castillo, Tarilabo Koripamo

*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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