There is something special taking place at Capital Repertory Theatre over the next few weeks.
“The Royale,” a play that uses boxing to tell a socially relevant story plays the Albany theater through October 14. It’s an engaging and emotionally powerful production that manages to be entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.
“The Royale” is almost poetic in its story-telling as it relates a harsh, cruel tale with a simple eloquence that finds the beauty of every moment. The acting is splendid, the direction brilliant and the staging imaginative. Though the play is visceral in its emotions, it delivers a subtle message about the pain of unintended consequences.
Jay “The Sport” Jackson is a great boxer. Maybe the greatest boxer of his era, which is the turn of the 20th century. But because of the color of his skin, he is known only as the Negro Champion. Jackson’s ego demands he be recognized as the Champion of the World. To accomplish this, he and his handlers lure the former champion – a white man who is a national hero – out of retirement for one last fight.
If Jay beats the former champ he will be recognized as the greatest boxer in the world. But, as he comes to learn, having a black man idolized as the world champion will unleash the racial hate that is entrenched in many. The result will be violence and many innocent people will suffer.
The conflict in the play comes from Jay having to deal with the knowledge that doing what he was born to do will provoke the actions of those filled with hate. To not fulfill his destiny would be a betrayal of his spirit.
The compelling nature of the story lies in the manner in which the play handles this dilemma. Jay’s actions are rooted in vanity, not nobility. How Jay turns from a self-involved gladiator to become a tragic hero – a man who loses if he wins - is a beautiful, tender and sensitive story.
Beautiful, tender and sensitive are not words often associated with the violent sport of boxing. However, the direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian and the fight choreography of Kyle Vincent Terry always keeps you involved in both in the story being told and the story under the surface.
For example, they stage two painful-to-watch boxing matches without any physical contact between the combatents. Indeed, the intensity of each fight is heightened because while we see the hurt the fighters inflict on each other, the true pain takes place in the minds of the participants.
Internalizing pain and suffering is a key element throughout “The Royale.” Each of the characters brings their own hopes, dreams and fears to the final match. It’s a case where winning is losing.
Especially effective is the portrayal of Thomas Silcott as Jay. He makes a remarkable journey throughout the play and it is clear, scene by scene, that he is forced to change from a carefree dandy to become a world-weary symbol of injustice. What makes the performance so special is that Silcott plays the man in such a way that you realize the fighter did not change - he evolved. At play’s end we understand Jay was the same man throughout the play. It just took 80-minutes for his inner-self to be revealed.
Though Silcott is the lynchpin of the production, this is an ensemble presentation. Each performer is critical to making the whole work as well as it does. It’s a superior effort by all.
Also adding to the success of the night is Lawrence E Moten III’s simple set design and Adam Honore’s lighting – both of which combine to give the production the visual impact of an insightful painting. The tech, like the material, is haunting.
“The Royale” plays at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany through October 14. It should not be missed. For tickets and schedule information call 518-445-7469, or go to capitalrep.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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