Members say: Great acting, Great staging, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

About the show

Lincoln Center Theater presents a play loosely based on the life story of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion in history.

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Jay "The Sport" Jackson dreams of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. But it’s 1905, and in the segregated world of boxing, his chances are as good as knocked out. When a crooked boxing promoter hatches a plan for “the fight of the century,” The Sport just might land a place in the ring with the reigning white heavyweight champion. Loosely based on real events, Marco Ramirez’s wildly theatrical new play brings to explosive life the sights and sounds of the early 20th century boxing circuit, and the ultimate fight for a place in history.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"Marco Ramirez’s absorbing drama…Staged with a swift, stark lyricism by the impossibly versatile Rachel Chavkin, 'The Royale' boldly takes on and reorients a familiar genre and a familiar tale…The entire cast of this production embody their parts with laser sharpness…Occasionally the script tips into overstatement and overexplanation…But you don’t feel like picking apart the individual elements when they cohere into such an organic whole." Full Review


"Marco Ramirez's inventively-crafted 'The Royale,' given a tense, rhythmic and evocative mounting by Rachel Chavkin, merits high scores of its own…Davis' attention moves seamlessly as his character goes back and forth from sparring with Fish to sparring with the press...The championship match is represented with unexpected dramatics, as Jay must eventually learn the price of his victories, and of the victories of his people." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Featuring elaborately stylized staging that fails to compensate for the thin writing, 'The Royale' doesn't fulfill the promise of its powerful subject…The evening only sporadically comes to dramatic life…To make up for the skimpiness of the material, the dialogue is frequently accompanied by rhythmic hand-clapping, a repetitive device that quickly becomes annoying...The actors' strong efforts aren't enough to make the play feel anything other than pedestrian." Full Review


"Chavkin's rendering realizes every bit of tragic theater that the primal sport embodies…Scene after scene of Ramirez's thick dialogue can sit heavily on the brain. When it's roused by Chavkin's clear aesthetic point of view, the narrative comes to life…Just as Ramirez builds his own version of the great Jack Johnson's history, Chavkin interprets the power struggle that occurs when two boxers enter the ring. Each takes liberties with reality, but both artists' renderings couldn't be more trut... Full Review


"Sometimes the most powerful fights are the ones we have in our own minds — a fact vividly depicted in 'The Royale,' a riveting play by Marco Ramirez…A spare and intimate story of internal struggles, propelled by the dynamic, imaginative direction of Rachel Chavkin and performed by a terrific quintet of actors…It’s a struggle made all the more dramatic by a coup de theatre that has the boxer realizing this battle is as personal as it gets." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Not a single flesh-on-flesh punch lands in Marco Ramirez’s intensely focused boxing drama, yet it’s like you see the blood and teeth flying and hear the crunch of broken ribs. In 'The Royale', the endless sucker punch of a historically racist society is the chief means of violence. Words are another, and they come fast and furious in a percussive script…The big showdown is handled in a fairly ingenious and surprising manner. It connects and it bruises." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"When the time comes to deliver the knockout punch, it takes a lady to do it. She is Montego Glover, here assigned the task of delivering the coup de grâce of Marco Ramirez's play...There's a lot more to like in 'The Royale', including the novel staging of the fight scenes as interior monologues. All five members of Rachel Chavkin's cast are first-rate...It's interesting how every so often a powerfully wrought play seems to resonate far beyond its own borders." Full Review

New York Theater

“A 90-minute blast of inventive staging that is 'loosely inspired' by the life of Jack Johnson...What does “The Royale” add to the abundant literature on the Champ? Not much...What it offers is intense and innovative theatricality directed by the extraordinary Rachel Chavkin...If the playwright is most effective in establishing the jazz-like percussive rhythms of the action, he also shows promise as a theatrical heavyweight in a handful of punchy lines." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"'The Royale' is boldly theatrical, well-acted and the very definition of 'promising'...'The Royale' is given a pretty sterling production...[The play] would have been stronger if they had pared some of the artifice, if they'd cut back on the speechifying toward the end and allowed Jay to enter the ring with the fierce determination he needed to triumph." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Staged with thrilling, even ritualized theatricality by the exceptional young director Rachel Chavkin...the 75-minute, “six-round” play..lands blow after blow...There are no false notes in the ensemble, led by the...completely convincing Davis as Jay and the ferociously determined Glover as Nina...‘The Royale’ may not float like a butterfly but it stings like a bee. It’s bare-knuckled dramatic fisticuffs with a one-two punch that will send you reeling." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The fusion between writing and direction is so airtight that it borders on Expressionism...Every word, hit, clap, and stomp echoes with that authenticity…The Big Fight itself depends on a trick of writing and staging that is more heavy-handed and half-hearted than the rest of the play...But it's a testament to how good everything else is that even that doesn't matter very much…Real boxing matches may have more blood, but I've never seen one as exciting or as moving as 'The Royale.'" Full Review

New York Daily News

"Newcomer Khris Davis brings muscle and fine acting chops as Jay. Montego Glover adds steely passion as his concerned sister…Rachel Chavkin replaces typical jabs and hooks with claps and stomps and makes you look at fight scenes with fresh eyes. She also imagines the championship fight in an ingenious way that involves Jay’s family. The terrific performances and the striking, stylized staging deliver one-two punches." Full Review


"Much of the dialogue among the four men has the rhythm of jazz; the words and actions punctuated by syncopated clapping and stomping…Rachel Chavkin, an inventive and keen director, knows her immersive theater and she also, on the evidence, honors writers. So do the design team...'The Royale' has heart and a conscience, and it’s unquestionably the work of a writer still finding his voice. Like his champion Jay, he’s got style." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Director Rachel Chavkin has set the pace for Marco Ramirez’s play, 'The Royale,' with claps and stomps, creating visceral partners between words and movement and making us the plays sparring partner. Her brilliant staging, mustered with Ramirez’s story and the flowing connected ensemble of this marvelous cast is like watching a jazz band riff off of each other...Go! Get a ticket! Run to The Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center! Don’t wait until it’s too late!" Full Review

The Wrap

"Khris Davis delivers in his lead role, and they’re quite a pair of boxing gloves to fill…In addition to making the boxer a larger-than-life hero, Ramirez succeeds in giving Jay mystique…That final fight is a wonderful coup de theatre, and brilliantly staged. But it also comes right after we’ve been introduced to Nina, and Glover can’t make the jump. What actor could? It’s like introducing Stanley to Blanche, and then cutting to the rape scene in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'." Full Review


"Chavkin leads these five superb performers through 90 minutes of intense work. The extreme stylization of text and design may interfere with the emotional involvement of some playgoers. But when 'The Royale' reaches its horrifying conclusion, all that's non-naturalistic about the creative team's approach culminates in a sense of magnitude and of the mythic, and Ramirez's compact drama is transformed from a tale about a bygone era to a parable for all time." Full Review

Theater Life

"As directed, much of this play is reflective, interior and symbolic. Hand clapping, and foot stamping replace actual blows. This turns the thin script into a full-length play and gives the drama a certain lyricism. But after a while, all that rhythmic stomping seems to have more style than substance...Nevertheless, 'The Royale' is frequently brought back by the excellent performances...'The Royale' might have been more effective if Chavkin had aimed less for the head and more for the gut." Full Review

Show Showdown

"Man, oh man, 'The Royale' is a play worth seeing--especially in a production as tightly realized and inventively directed and as beautifully performed as this one is…It doesn't tie up the loose ends in a tidy bow. That is, of course, to its credit…'The Royale' is so consistently engrossing, Jay's inner game so engagingly depicted, and the cast and direction so flawless and fine, that the ending is not the point so much as the getting there is." Full Review

The Knockturnal

"'The Royale’ is a slick, inventive piece of one-act theater with a historical theme that seems to be all too relevant to today’s current events....‘The Royale’ proves to be about how small actions by one person can have rippling effects for all people of the same skin color. This is a message and theme that seems to be all too relevant over one hundred years after when the events of the play take place." Full Review

San Diego Union-Tribune

for a previous production "Jay 'The Sport' Jackson likes to mess with his opponents’ heads right before he rearranges their faces. With its hypnotic rhythms and dreamlike style, the show works over a playgoer in much the same way...If the story has a weak moment, it's in Jay’s puzzling misperception of the level of threat against him. But the Globe production is an arresting one, from the ominous thrums of Matt Hubbs’ soundscape to the raw invention of Nicholas Vaughan’s set design." Full Review

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News

for a previous production "Too often, words at the ends of sentences were lost, so much so that I needed to read the script to know what was said...Along with fine acting all around, 'The Royale' gets points for creative staging, excellent lighting and sound and for raising an interesting question: when personal ambition collides with family needs, how is that decision made? Unfortunately, here we know the answer before the show starts." Full Review

La Jolla Light

for a previous production "Nicholas Vaughan’s boxing ring set design on the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre stage works well for different beats of the story and the juxtaposition of the characters — especially when threats become a stumbling block to Jay’s journey." Full Review

San Diego CityBeat

for a previous production "The boxing is only simulated in Marco Ramirez’'s 'The Royale,' directed by Rachel Chavkin. It would have to be. That the simulations don’t work very well is immaterial because—big surprise—this isn’'t a play about boxing. It'’s about race. That message is delivered with uppercut intensity in this one-act drama loosely based on the real-life story of heavyweight Jack Johnson, the first African- American to hold the title." Full Review

San Diego Reader

for a previous production "Take away the spectacular theatricality and 'The Royale' would be a thin-ish script that makes some important points. But add the hands clapping in series of threes, often followed by a foot stomp; and stylized boxing matches where lights flash, noises jolt, and you feel, rather than see, the blows; and elevated performances by a stand-out cast, and the play becomes the ritualized conjuration of an era we should never forget." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

for a previous production "It is all very exciting and the dramatic tension builds. Here's where the play becomes difficult for Ms. Chavkin's concept: Ms. Glover needs to let some air out of this big balloon that the actors have constructed in order to build back to the finale. The audience expects more theatrical ritual and doesn't get it. Still, the cast performs smartly, and the play's point about finding your own personal power as African-Americans in a racist society is eventually made in shattering fashion." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging

See it if Great writing and direction.

Don't see it if you won't, it closed.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if You want to see a tense, beautifully choreographed drama about racism.

Don't see it if You prefer your plays light and fluffy.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Great staging

See it if Appreciate theatre that depicts American history in a gripping fashion.

Don't see it if Don't like sports inspired stories.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intense, Terrific

See it if you want to be moved emotionally and kept on the edge of your seat

Don't see it if you are in the mood for a musical or something funny rather than witness racial issues and tension that are bound to impact you.

Original, Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Great staging

See it if You like boxing.

Don't see it if You don't like racial themes.

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Great staging, Taut

See it if The performances are what really keep you engaged. Best possible staging/direction of this material. Shorter play that's worth your time.

Don't see it if The social commentary is OK but not revolutionary or new. The last character to be revealed feels false in hindsight.

Absorbing, Relevant, Resonant, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you love great writing. Some lines rang in my belly. Really moving performance by MCKINLEY BELCHER III. KHRIS DAVIS brought it home.

Don't see it if a shouting match between two actors sends you twitching...only flaw in an otherwise great production about unseen consequences.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Great writing, Great staging

See it if You love good theater. The set, staging, acting, lighting... everything was meticulously planned, and beautifully executed.

Don't see it if you're looking for something uplifting

Great acting, Intelligent, Great staging

See it if You are interested in racial issue using historical boxing characters. Reminiscent of the 1970 The Great White Hope.

Don't see it if You do not like plays about social issues.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Relevant, Great staging

See it if if you are interested in race in America issues, which are becoming more relevant each day

Don't see it if you like light theater that entertains, and relaxes you, calms you down after a stressful day

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant

See it if you want to experience race relations in a different "arena". The acting is pitch perfect and opens up a discussion of race in a new way

Don't see it if you don't want to experience a show that makes you think and discuss race.

Indulgent, Banal, Excruciating, Cliched, Overrated

See it if Overly presentational w/ too little clear story telling. Cast bangs, claps, shouts and poses which becomes thoroughly irritating. Awful.

Don't see it if Well, if you believe the good review, by all means spend your money. Then write up your opinion here. It's easy.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Great staging

See it if You like drama acted through words and sounds. Are interested in race issues in professional sport

Don't see it if You need literal portrayals of the action.

Great staging, Amazing cast, Fresh approach to historical boxing story, Close look at american racism, Choreographed beautifully with staccato sounds

See it if you are interested in an aspect of American racism in boxing, love good writing and wonderful staging, Want to be enveloped in the moment.

Don't see it if Are uncomfortable with discussion of racism in America; surrealistic fight scenes with sound, or you want a light frothy play with no depth.

Original, Confusing, Slow

See it if you want to watch two guys dance around a boxing ring and talk, while pounding the set or their feet to the floor. Incessantly.

Don't see it if You want a linear storyline or actual boxing match. Or Rocky: The Non-Musical.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you want to see a very different take on the central character in The Great White Hope. Truly fascinating to see a different POV.

Don't see it if you have little interest in the evolution of race relations or challenging drama.

Clever, Confusing

See it if you want to see different staging. Kinda entertaining but grows thin. Cleverly done but ending ruins the whole story.

Don't see it if you are not interesting in a boxing story with racial overtones.

Fabulous direction and acting but frustrating script

See it if wonderful staging and great acting can make up for a pedestrian story that barely explores its hero's key conflict

Don't see it if you have limited tolerance for implausible plot development and inadequate character exposition

Great acting, Great staging, Great directing

See it if You would enjoy an unremarkable script with some odd deviations that is brought alive by wonderful direction, staging and acting

Don't see it if You require excellent writing, thoughtful dialogue, and a novel story and characters

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if Very good staging and very intense. A first-rate show!

Don't see it if N/A

Original, Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you want to see a beautiful performance by four outstanding actors who take over the little Newhouse stage with a passionate intensity

Don't see it if you don't want to think about the persistence of discrimination in our country; though set in the past, this story resonates strongly today

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Great staging

See it if you like great staging. Without a drop of blood or red dye, I felt every punch. I felt the anger. Excellent acting, sound & direction

Don't see it if you need blood to make you feel pain and see the violence. Don't see it if race relations is a topic you cannot face.

Great acting, Sturdy, Entertaining, Great staging, Fast

See it if You like a good story, well told.

Don't see it if You are turned off by plays about boxing, sports and/or by racially charged drama.

Thought-provoking, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if You like plays about race and boxing. Want to see some great direction and acting. . \Don't mind the play being so so.

Don't see it if you like great play because the Great White Hope is a better play about Jack Johnson.

Confusing, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you like a sketchy boxing drama

Don't see it if you want to be entertained

Cast & Creatives (12)