by Beki Pineda
THE ROYALE – Written by Marco Ramirez; Directed by Jada Suzanne Dixon. Produced by the Butterfly Effect Theatre Company (BETC) (Presented at the Carsen Theatre at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder) through November 19. Tickets available at 303-440-7826 or betc.org.
How can a play about boxing be done without harming the actors? On my mind as I drove to the theatre was the safety of the actors and the staging of the play. I needn’t have worried. The team led by Jada Suzanne Dixon (who goes for the gut in everything she does), the cast of five seasoned professionals, and a production team dedicated to telling this story took great care in keeping everyone safe and telling the story with a theatrical but authentic method. But I’m not going to spoil the genius of their solution. You have to buy a ticket and go see this amazing tour de force to get your answers.
Leave it to BETC to bring this powerful gut-wrenching story to life. They have a knack for finding unusual scripts before anyone else and filling their productions with brilliant people. Can anyone who saw it EVER forget GUARDS AT THE TAJ? This is another one that will stay with you for a long time.
Loosely based on the real-life story of Jack Johnson who was the first Black boxer to become the World Heavyweight Champion in 1908 by beating the reigning champion Tommy Burns in 14 rounds. He later defended his title by fighting the previous champ James J. Jeffries who had become the “great white hope.” This victory spurred race riots across the country in which several people were killed.
Ramirez’s script is based on these factual events but becomes more about the price paid by being “the first” at anything that puts you head and shoulders above others. The first African-American regiment in the Civil War; the first division of Black pilots in WWII; the first Black major league baseball player; the first Black headliner at Vegas; the first Black partner in a prominent law firm. This script asks “Who suffered because of these firsts? What was the price that innocent people paid because you became the first? What was the impact on your family and friends?” And ultimately, on you.
Lavour Addison takes the lead as Jay Johnson who has worked too hard and too long to get where he is. He’s not going to stop now. Even when a last minute visit from his sister (Lisa Young) brings home the cost to his family. Lisa brings a dignity and determination to this woman who knows her mission is futile but has to try regardless. They are joined by father figure/trainer Wynton played by Chris Davenport with a quiet strength that will weather any storm. Augie Truhn is Max, the white manager who beats the odds by making this fight happen. Walking the razor’s edge between the volatile Jay and the hard headed fight promoters, he ends up sweating as much as the actual boxers. The cast is completed by Cameron Davis as Jay’s sparring partner and younger self, Fish. The commitment of each player to the truth of their personal part of the story is complete. There is no holding back. The passion, the tears, the fear is real. Putting these five in the boxing ring that was the set and letting them duke it out will give you a powerful theatre evening and a lot to think about as you journey home.
This is a must-see production. You only have until November 19th. GO!!
A WOW factor of 9.5!!