Directed by Jaime Castaneda
At American Theatre Co. (ATC)
Theatrically pleasing tale of glory, bravery, and determination through boxing is a winner
Loosely based on Jack Johnson’s being the first African-American to defeat a white man for the professional heavy-weight championship, playwright Marco Ramirez has penned a strong 75 minute profile of the traits that fuel a determined Jay (Jerod Haynes) to focus on being the heavy-weight boxing champion of the world. We see how much Jay is seeking glory and personal prestige more than money.
He constantly pressures his agent Max (Philip Earl Johnson) to arrange a fight with the now retired white champion. Jay is confident, even arrogant, as to his boxing ability. We see him toy with a challenger Fish (Julian Parker) before he defeats him in the seventh round despite the urgings of his trainer Wynton (Edwin Lee Gibson) to finish off the talented opponent.
Jay hires Fish as a sparing partner after Max finally arranges a fight with the retired champ. Max could only get the white champ to fight for 90% of the gate. Jay agrees because to him money is secondary to glory, fame, and black recognition that comes from being the first black heavy-weight champ in Jim Crow America (circa 1920’s).
The set is a large boxing ring and the slapping and verbal sound effects vividly present the hits in a boxing match from Jeffery Freelon and Eric Gerard. Everything is going Jay’s way until his sister Nina (Mildred Langford) arrives to warn Jay that racism will lead to violence if Jay wins the championship. Jay’s personal fame blinds him to the social consequences of being a champion.
This interesting staging and the strong truthful performance by Philip Earl Johnson as the agent, Max and the power packed charismatic turn from Jerod Haynes as Jay makes this play worth seeing. Mildred Langford’s appearance shakes things up for all. The Royale is much more than a “boxing” drama.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 28. 2015
For more info checkout The Royale page at theatreinchicago.com
At ATC, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, tickets $43 – $49, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 75 minutes without an intermission, through March 29, 2015