Play Review of  “The Royale” – written by Marco Ramirez/ Co-directed by Ryan George & Lauren Warhol Caldwell

By Gargs Allard

The first time I ever heard about Jack Johnson, not the blues or the folk-rock musicians, but the first black heavyweight champion of the world who was crowned with that distinction in 1908, was when Hollywood portrayed him as Jack Jeffries in the Martin Ritt directed film adaptation of Howard Sackler’s award-winning Broadway play of the same name, “The Great White Hope,” starring James Earl Jones.

I didn’t catch the film when it came out in 1970, (I was only 6) but saw it a few years later on network television when I was but a wee boy, no more than 10. Back then I was an avid sports fan and loved to watch Muhammed Ali and the rest of the heavyweights of that great era in boxing.

One thing I noticed when I saw boxing films back then, was the fight scenes looked nothing like the real thing and that bothered me. The bad choreography cheapened the experience, even enough for a child, albeit a precocious boxing fan, to notice and be distracted.

And that’s what was on my mind, believe it or not, when I entered the Hippodrome on Sunday to watch “The Royale,” a play written by Marco Ramirez, and co-directed on the Hipp’s MainStage by Ryan George and Lauren Warhol Caldwell.

The play starts out with a rather cleverly done fight scene that more than satisfactorily answered my question of how they were going to pull it off, before delving deep into the main issues of the play, as Jay “The Force” Jackson defiantly punches his way to victory after victory, as only a determined black man could, in an atmosphere surcharged with bigoted opposition and threats of violence in the Jim Crow South of the early 1900’s.

Jackson, played brilliantly by former Notre Dame track star Bryce Michael Wood, embodies the determination and fear Jack Johnson himself must have felt to his core while being constantly harassed by death threats and a concerned and corrupt government, which was also regularly attempting to put his ass in the stern with such methods as invoking the Mann Act – just like they did successfully later with Chuck Berry when they tried to shut down the rock n’ roll movement of the late 1950s.

In “The Royale,” Ramirez uses poetic license by weaving in inspiration from his own relationship with his sister, and thus including the character of Nina in the script, who plays Jackson’s strong-willed sister and is portrayed by Brazilian-born actress Renata Eastlick, whose rather powerful presence is felt, from the back of the room and closer up, throughout the approximately 90-minutes of the show.

George, who also plays Jackson’s sparring partner and protege, adds liveliness to the production as an actor and seriousness as co-director. Both George and Warhol Caldwell (who was friends with Andy Warhol back in the day) said they did a lot of studying about the history of Jack Johnson before undertaking the direction of the production, and if the audience’s enthusiastic response was any indication, it showed.

Both Alachua native E. Stanley Richardson (Wynton the trainer) and Brooklyn resident Dylan Kammerer (Max, the promoter) did fine jobs in rounding out the cast.

Kammerer, who is a graduate of the University of Florida as is George, was in the mind of the co-director to possibly play Dylan even before the casting call commenced.

All facets of this staging – from acting, to direction to wardrobe and costume design by Jessica Nilachala Kreitzer – are all top notch. So, you can thoroughly enjoy catching a showing of this play, which transcends the sport of boxing to showcase the will of the human spirit to break free from the shackles of oppression, before it’s run comes to an end on February 11.

Tickets for the show, which runs through February 11, can be purchased through the Hipp’s website or by calling the box office at (352) 375-4477.


CAST

Jay Bryce Michael Wood
Wynton E. Stanley Richardson
Fish Ryan George
Max Dylan Kammerer
Nina Renata Eastlick

CREATIVE

Director Lauren “Warhol” Caldwell
Director Ryan George
Stage Manager Amber Wilkerson
Assistant Stage Manager Carley Selah
Production Manager/Lighting Designer Robert P. Robins
Technical Director Michael Eaddy
Master Electrician Niel Bearden
Scenic Designer Mihai Ciupe
Sound Designer Amanda Yanes
Costume Designer/ Costume Shop Adviser Jessica Nilachala Kreitzer
Costume Shop Foreman Jill Parzych
Wardrobe Nichole Williams
Props Designer Tim Dygert
Movement Director Rudi Goblen

 

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