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Fighting Against Racial Prejudice

Marco Ramirez’s ‘The Royale’ at Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio

Oct. 4, 2016
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Photo by Michael Brosilow

The Rep delivers a winning knockout punch early in its 2016-2017 season with an outstanding production of Marco Ramirez’s The Royale. Based on the real-life story of the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, The Royale focuses on Jay “The Sport” Jackson during the Jim Crow era of the early 1900s and his quest to prove himself as the best there is in a world filled with racial discrimination at every turn.

Although set in a boxing ring, rarely a physical punch is thrown. Instead, director Kevin Ramsey makes excellent use of rhythmic clapping with heavy stomps to indicate when a punch makes its mark. But its Johnson’s emotional punches from within that affect him the most. Ghosts from the past always linger and drive him in this taught, 75-minute (no intermission) production, leading up to fight the current retired champion—who’s white. The battle of the century changes their world in very unexpected ways.

The cast is uniformly excellent; as Jackson, David St. Louis is the perfect specimen of commanding brute force and complex emotions as he battles his inner foes. Xavier Scott Evans provides welcome comic relief as the simpleminded yet street-smart sparring partner, Fish; John Gregorio (Max the promoter), Sade’ E. Moore (Jackson’s sister Nina) and Cedric Turner (Jackson’s trainer Wynton), round out this fine ensemble work.

“I do, at the end of the day, get punched in the face for a living,” Jackson tells a group of reporters. In The Royale, it’s the punches to his heart and soul that tell the real story.

 

Through Nov. 6 at the Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. For tickers call 414-224-9490 or visit: milwaukeerep.com.

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