Monday, November 20, 2017

"The Royale" ☼ ☼

Marco Ramirez knows boxing, so he realized that actors on stage pretending to be boxers will never feel authentic. So in his "The Royale," making its Bay Area Premiere at the Aurora in Berkeley, he decided to negate the lack of realism my stylizing the pugilism. The main character, Jay (Calvin M. Thompson), as well as Jay's first opponent, Fish (Satchel André), and also his final opponent ( spoiler alert - we cannot tell you who this is) all stand at a distance from one another across the stage and kind of -- dance. To supposedly throw punches they slam their feet down and grunt, and when they have been hit by those punches their facial expressions become pained, or if they have been knocked out, one lies on the stage and one exults.

If you have never seen a boxing match before, or if you ore one of the many who despise boxing for its animalistic overtone, this stylization may work for you. For us -- not so much. The actors have to also stay in time with a complicated rhythmical motif. There is just too much going on to feel real.

Ramirez's story, which parallels the real-life story of Jack Johnson, the great American fighter from the beginning of the 20th century, is more about racism and classism than it is about boxing, and the issues resonate to this day. But the ending -- the final fight -- well, we won't say anything more about it except that the whole show points to the payoff -- the epic struggle between the two great fighters of the day -- and what we get is symbolism. You can't get around it -- you accept this theatrical conceit, or you don't. Many do -- the show has been extended. We don't.

Satchel André is a particularly effective Fish, the primitive man from Mississippi with power in his fists but lacking an appropriate fear of the world around him. Tim Kniffin plays Jay's white manager who cannot help himself from uttering racist dogma.

Atim Udoffia plays Jay's sister, but her insistence on beating her brother down for social ills, about which he can do nothing, grates on this audience member. We want Jay to tell her to just go home. Instead -- well, you'll see.


The San Francisco Theater Blog is unable to get behind this production of "The Royale." We are giving it Two Stars, one for Donald E. Lacy Jr.'s fine performance as Wynton, the wise and world-weary trainer who tries to keep Jay centered, and one for the idea of trying dancing and finger snapping instead of boxing. It is an admirable attempt, but one that, for us, tires quickly, unable to make it through to the final round.

Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley

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