The Royale: Theater review by David Cote
Not a single flesh-on-flesh punch lands in Marco Ramirez’s intensely focused boxing drama, yet it’s like you see the blood and teeth flying and hear the crunch of broken ribs. In The Royale, the endless sucker punch of a historically racist society is the chief means of violence.
Words are another, and they come fast and furious in a percussive script that also uses hand claps and foot stomping to symbolize the brutal dance of pugilists in the ring. Ramirez fashions his 90-minute play after the historic 1910 bout between black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson and white retired legend James J. Jeffries. Dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” the event was a victory of sorts for the integration of the sport.
Ramirez (benefiting from director Rachel Chavkin’s innate musicality) deftly sketches his version of Johnson in Jay, endowed with tremendous grace and charm by Khris Davis. Clarke Peters plays the crusty coach who has seen bare-knuckle horrors, and the radiant Montego Glover makes a pivotal appearance as Jay’s deeply alarmed sister. The big showdown is handled in a fairly ingenious and surprising manner. It connects and it bruises.—David Cote
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Off Broadway). By Marco Ramirez. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.