By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
No sooner than the curtain rises for the opening bell, The Royale throws all types of combinations, counterpunches and symbolic meanings of systematic racism as it goes the six-round distance in the confines of Midtown Sacramento’s Capital Stage Theater.
Written by playwright Marco Ramirez and directed by Anthony D’Juan, the prime elements of the play — physical, verbal, and cinematic — are produced with a theatrical cadence and depiction of racial hostilities.
The Royale is unapologetically worth a ringside seat.
“It’s just a great cast, great direction, great sound, great lighting, and great stage management. Everybody is awesome in this production,” said Brooklynn T. Solomon, who portrays the protagonist’s sister “Nina” in the stage play.
The Royale opened on Aug. 27 and runs until Sept. 25. A fight card performed in six rounds, the Capital Stage play sprints nonstop for 90 minutes with no intermission; better yet, no break in the action.
The Royale tells the tale of Jay “The Sport” Jackson’s ambition of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He garnished the nickname “because he is the sport,” a boxing promoter proclaimed.
The moment in time is 1905 and legalized Jim Crow laws segregate African Americans from restaurants, public transportation and hotel accommodations. Under the racial conditions that began between post-Reconstruction and the early usage of the “separate-but-equal” doctrine, Jackson is determined to fight for equality on his own terms.
Jackson’s objective is to step into a boxing ring and stand toe-to-toe with a White man, retired boxer ‘Champ’ Bixby, in an effort to achieve greatness. Like no White champion before him, Bixby had never climbed over the ropes of a boxing ring to fight a Black man.
“It ain’t about being no heavyweight champion of the White world. It’s about being champion, period,” Jackson says adamantly about the politics of boxing.
The Royale is an energetic and powerful examination of the history of racism in the United States about 40 years after the ending of the Civil War. There’s more at stake than Jackson’s quest for the heavyweight title belt.
“You were ready to take over the world the day you were born. I just don’t think the rest of us (Black people) are,” Nina tells Jackson in Round 5 of the play.
Ramirez, the award-winning writer of the hit television series “Orange Is the New Black” and “Sons of Anarchy” cleverly wrote a yarn loosely based on the life of Jack Johnson. Johnson was the first Black heavyweight champion who won the world title against Tommy Burns in 1908. Johnson held the title for seven years before losing it to White boxer Jess Willard in the 26th round.
A consistent violator of segregation laws who had interracial relationships and would verbally assault his opponents, Johnson was indirectly blamed for violence inflicted upon the Black community by White people who detested his way of life.
It must be noted that the title of the play derives from a short story by novelist Ralph Ellison, who described in his book, Invisible Man, the nature of the “Battle Royal.”
A disturbing tradition that dates back to the days of slavery, Battle Royal was a practice staged by enslavers who pitted three or more Black fighters against each other to battle it out, bare-knuckled, until only one was left standing. The practice continued into the early 20th century, and the majority of the fighters were poor and Black.
In Ken Barnes’ PBS documentary, “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” it was explained that Johnson himself participated in Battle Royal spectacles before his boxing career took flight.
Six actors and one creative visionary brought The Royale to life. Solomon, Corneilus Franklin, Matt K. Miller, Alex Richardson, Brandon Rubin, and Imani Waweru were the splendid thespians who pulled together an outstanding script under the direction of D’Juan.
Franklin handled the duties of Jay “The Sport” Jackson, an arrogant and outspoken Black boxer with intentions of breaking the racial barriers in the world of segregated boxing. An exceptional performance by Franklin; truly convincing as a boxer.
Rubin is Jay’s trainer and cornerman, Wynton. Rubin’s articulation of instructions in physical combat fits perfectly with Franklin’s boxing moves. Inside and outside the ring, Rubin delivered his lines loudly and with perfection.
Richardson had the pleasure of portraying Fish, a young, up-and-coming African American amature boxer who eventually becomes Jay’s sparring partner after serving as his “76th opponent.” Richardson has been in Sacramento’s public theater for six years. He may have earned larger roles in the future thanks to The Royale.
Miller is the shady Caucasian fight promoter, Max. His performance, or performances, are well above impressive. Immaculate to say the least. Miller nailed down multiple roles that also included a boxing referee and at least three newspaper sports reporters. Miller is the fight director who directed, staged, and choreographed every fight sequence of the production.
Solomon is Jay’s fierce older sister Nina who feels like she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, more so than her brother. In the last round, the 6th Round of The Royale, Solomon masterfully stands in the way of destiny. A natural talent who understands the science of dialogue, Solomon, a graduate from Sacramento State University, is always fabulous in her acting gigs.
Waweru does not have a speaking role but has a significant part in the ensemble. She leads the thunderous foot thumps, synchronized claps, and sounds of “Oohs and Aahs” from the boxing spectators in the play.
There was a detection of a repeated line from one of the actors during opening night but nothing of concern. The sound and flashing lights of the paparazzi’s cameras certainly gave the play a turn-of-the-century setting that would put a red-carpet event in Hollywood to shame.
“The Royale” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, The play first premiered in Los Angeles in 2013. It was originally produced by Lincoln Center Theater, in 2016, New York City.
Capital Stage earned a five-star rating for its version of The Royale. Until the curtain closes on Sept. 25, it should not have one empty seat. It is electrifying, enjoyable, and socially educational during a time of racial reckoning.
“This play is timely because it’s all about things that are still relevant today,” Solomon told the OBSERVER.
To attend a performance, patrons must present proof of vaccination for COVID-19 (with a second dose at least 14 days prior to the date of the performance), plus a booster (if eligible and 6 months after your final dose) with a valid photo ID.
Capital Stage is located at 2215 J Street. Tickets for seats may be purchased in person or by calling the box office at (916) 995-5464 or visit https://capstage.org/