The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Lincoln Center Theater Spring 2021
Lincoln Center Theater produced this play in 2016 and now makes its
excellent archive recording available online at no charge.
drama is a fictional account of a black prizefighter's campaign to fight
the white champion for the title in the early years of the Twentieth
remind some of actual historical events and others of Howard Sackler's
The Great White Hope, which told a similar story.
The Royale also
carries echoes of other boxing plays and films from Golden Boy through
Rocky and beyond – and like them it is ultimately not really about
boxing but about the American Dream and just how achievable it is, and
The play starts
indirectly, by focusing on a young African-American boxer facing his
first bout,which is (perhaps improbably) with the self-proclaimed Negro
Heavyweight Champion. He loses, of course, but handles himself well, and
the champ hires him as a sparring partner.
shifts to the champ and his determination to get a bout with the
official Champion (who is, of course, white). The fight is scheduled but
it is made clear that white America hates him for even trying, and that
a victory will lead to riots and murders of innocent black people.
There are only
two ways this play could end, and I won't tell you which the playwright
chooses, except to say that it works dramatically and effectively
conveys the dramatist's vision that (to mix metaphors) the deck is
stacked against the black man and he has to play with full awareness of
refers to an anecdote told by a grizzled veteran, of a white man's club
that entertained itself by making black youths fight each other, and how
he as one of the boys figured out that 'winning' would consist of making
sure he got paid.
tells his story well, and director Rachel Chavkin stages it inventively
and evocatively. The boxing scenes that open and close the play are done
symbolically, with foot-stamping and trash-talking representing the
punches, so that the fighters reel from blows that are not actually
itself, the device takes on extra meanings when a press conference with
antagonistic white reporters and a later debate with the champ's worried
sister are played in the same way, equating the physical fight in the
ring with the larger battles against prejudice and fear.
gives the fighter a powerful physical presence and the strength that
comes from a single-minded determination to get what he believes is his
by right, but also lets us see the growing awareness of the message of
the Royale story complicating his vision.
Clarke Peters provides gravity as the veteran, McKinley Belcher III makes the boy attractive and Montego Glover has one strong scene as the concerned sister. But it is John Lavelle as the supportive white fight promoter who keeps threatening to steal scenes by doubling as an infectiously enthusiastic ring announcer.
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