Through September 24
THE ROYALE Paul Robeson Theatre/Revelation Theatre/African American Cultural Center
Racism is a central part of American sports history, whether the “Negro Leagues” or “The Great White Hope” or giant state universities with all-White football teams until not that long ago.
And, there was also the All American Football Conference which started in 1946 with All-White requirements for players until Paul Brown built his Cleveland Browns around players like Horace Gillom and Marion Motley.
That league included an earlier incarnation of the Buffalo Bills.
At the center of all of this for generations was boxing.
The great selling point for tickets at the top of the pyramid was a Black boxer and a White Boxer where promoters could say they were putting “The Great White Hope” up against Black boxers like Jack Johnson or Joe Louis.
There were a lot of White “palookas” losing in those matches but the ability to market those matches reflected the times, even when the White boxer was a friend of Adolf Hitler.
Marco Ramirez’ “The Royale” is a playwright’s angle on that racism.
The show is getting a wonderful production in the African American Cultural Center, as a joint effort of the Paul Robeson Theatre and Revelation Theatre, using one of David Butler’s best ever designs.
After seeing lavish productions in major theatres locally and in Niagara-on-the-Lake recently, it’s amazing what can be done with chalk.
Jay “The Sport” Jackson (Vincenzo McNeill) is an up-and-coming contender for heavyweight champ, with the current title holder willing to come back from retirement for one last payday.
Promoter Max (David Mitchell) wants to set up that fight, even if the champ is demanding 90% of the till.
Jackson knows he is being used but wants that fight and director Verniece Turner makes good use of the partial fight ring centering the set.
Even when Jackson is sparring with Fish (Matthew Ball), he never actually has contact with his gloves, no punches connect in a pantomime of a fight.
Booster (Roosevelt Tidwell III) is Sport’s trainer and advisor in the White-controlled world of boxing.
In his younger days, “back home,” Booster fought for pennies behind an old warehouse, an area sarcastically nicknamed “The Royale” for the vast amphitheaters where title fights went on.
Ramirez does strong work in keeping the story multi-faceted since boxing was controlled by the Mob and fixed fights were routine.
Until late in this extended one-act show, you don’t know if the inevitable fight will be honest.
Even when Jackson’s sister, Nina (VerNia Sharisse Garvin) shows up, we aren’t clear what’s going on and I won’t be specific what is.
The twisting resolution is a classic example of American racism.
Besides the Butler set, director Turner has a strong cast, particularly McNeill, Tidwell and Mitchell.
As the African American physically builds its new home and psychologically recovers from a couple years of internal problem, “The Royale” is a signal to return to Masten Avenue.
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