Truly Cool Work: The Royale

STORY BY Holly Ramos

Published: May 30, 2013

After seeing the Royale, a new play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in Culver City, CA, I fell compelled to talk about it, which is the mark of good work.

The Royal is about Jay Jackson, a black boxer at the beginning of the 20th century about to partake in “the fight of the century” against a white opponent. It is inspired by Jack Johnson, who was the first black heavy weight champion of the world.

Jack Johnson’s victory over a white opponent in 1908 made him the first black heavyweight champion of the world. But it was his even more important victory in 1910, fought on American soil against the former heavy weight champion who had retired but finally came out of retirement to fight Johnson which was called “the fight of the century”. The fight was symbolic for much of both the white and black public and Johnson’s victory incited race riots in over 50 American cities at the height of the Jim Crow laws, when slavery had only been abolished some 45 years earlier. There were casualties on both sides. 

The Royale

Johnson was an individualist, who only knew who to live as a free man. He dated who he wanted and did what he wanted, seeming to transcend the confines of race at the time. His story is amazing and you can check it out in the Ken Burn’s beautiful documentary Unforgivable Blackness.

The Royale focuses on the character Jay’s determination to win the fight and on the fear that his victory brings up in the black community, as personified by his sister. She has children and she has awareness of the consequences that his victory might have, of the violence that can ensue if a white man is defeated by a black man. She remarks about what it feels like if you are not the strongest person in the room, something that Jay may not ever have had to think about.

Jay is not fighting so that his family will be hurt, he is fighting for a personal victory. He has his own reasons for wanting to achieve this highest goal, and they include wanting to defeat a white man in the process. The play deals with the complicated issues of race, and with black America’s own historic intellectual divide regarding advancement; it deals with victory at an expense, and with the individual’s responsibility to society.

The show itself is beautiful. The set and the lighting add to the excitement of the boxing match, where the fighters face the audience, making us almost feel the punches. The Royale succeeds in all of the ways theatre should: It is brilliantly acted, intelligently written, creatively staged and it is moving. It makes you feel. Most importantly it gives you a lot to think out about.

Through June 2nd at the Kirk Douglas theatre
9820 Washington Blvd. 
Culver City, CA 90232

Other Stories by Holly Ramos
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