A drama as tightly sprung as a Swiss timepiece

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

The Royale, a drama by Marco Ramirez, is now onstage at St. Stephen’s Theater in Center City Philadelphia. The Lantern Theater Company has delivered an intense, incandescent performance by every actor involved. The energy explodes from the intimate theater-in-the-round. Most seats are no more than twenty feet away from the action. 

We meet Jack Johnson, a boxing phenomenon in the early 20th century. After winning every fight, he is now a contender to be world heavyweight champion of the world. The only problem is that between 1905 and 1910, Negroes did not fight white boxers, and the world heavyweight champion is a white man who has retired. By sheer force of Johnson’s personality, it has become clear that he must face the retired champ. The best deal Johnson’s agent can cut is splitting the prize 90-10, with Johnson getting the 10%. He agrees, knowing that is the only way he can achieve his goal. As his coach laughingly, yet truthfully says, “I would fight him for free.”
The pacing by Director Zuhairah McGill is akin to a runaway train, so intensely performed by all concerned. 
However, Philip Brown as Jay Johnson is absolutely spectacular. His stellar performance is riveting, Surely he will be nominated for (and win) a Barrymore Award for his possessed, unrelenting performance. The fine actor Brian Anthony Wilson often stops the show with unparallelled talent and skill as Jay’s trainer Wynton. Kahlil A. Wyatt is exceptional in his multifaceted role as Fish. Gregory Isaac is Max, Jay’s promoter and agent. Rounding out the excellent ensemble is Morgan Charece Hall as Nina. 
The Royale has had many productions on many important stages since it appeared at Lincoln Center in 2016. This production appears to be operating on all 16 cylinders. Don’t miss it. It is an unforgettable experience.
The one issue is that when Nina, the champ’s sister appears, the gears shift into what is basically a completely new story. August Wilson would have probably turned Nina’s story into another play, so rich and complex it is, to rush through it is a shame. The Royale here plays for 85 minutes. There is enough here to make this story into a trilogy. Many times the various plot lines are doubled and/or rushed through. Of course, there is so much action and stylized boxing much might be lost at first seeing the play. See The Royale for a taut, intense dramatic experience you will not soon forget.
The Royale by Marco Ramirez will be at St. Stephen’s Theater until December 11. For information and tickets, 

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