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The Royale

From 29 critic and 149 member reviews
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. More…

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.

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

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

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

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

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


"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

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

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


"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


"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

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


"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


"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

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

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 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

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 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

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

UCSD The Guardian

for a previous production "Part of playwright Ramirez’s brilliance is that Jackson’s internal strife makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the plot...Just as we think things are about to settle, the conflicting character’s desires complicates matters further — and these emotions show greatly in the final match. It’s a combination of brilliant staging, acting and structure of the play itself that contributes to a wonderful experience that flashes back to the struggles of African-Americans in 1905." Full Review

San Diego Jewish World

for a previous production "'The Royale' is a knockout from the first punch to the last...Like a boxer, the show relies on rhythm, timing, and fancy footwork to transport the audience to the vibrant world of the boxing circuit at the turn of the 20th century...The play is a true ensemble piece, and on opening night, the cast shone, delivering a nearly flawless performance." 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 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

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

Exquisite, Entertaining, Great writing, Masterful, Must see

See it if you are interested in seeing something new and different. This show allows you to use your imagination in a wonderful way.

Don't see it if everyone should see this.

Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Hilarious, Great writing

See it if You're into boxing

Don't see it if You can't deal with cursing

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intense

See it if you want to be consumed by a script, cast, and production that's all on point.

Don't see it if you can't deal with real talk about black vs white.

Exquisite, Must see, Original, Thought-provoking, Intense

See it if You want an entertaining, original, thought-provoking show with great acting and direction, a layered discussion of race and representation.

Don't see it if You want a mindless comedy. Otherwise, see it!

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you enjoy the perils of life

Don't see it if you don't like dramas

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Must see, Action packed

See it if Love boxing and action packed dramas

Don't see it if Don't like boxing or nostalgia or race relations

Terrific, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intense

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.

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

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

Absorbing, Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting, Great staging

See it if You like brilliant acting/ innovative staging. Great White Hope covered same issue, but still a great evening. A new acting champ is crowned

Don't see it if You didn't like Great White Hope or are a racist

Great acting, Great staging, Epic

See it if You want terrific performances, gorgeous writing, incredibly inventve staging and a true exploration of racism that is still timely.

Don't see it if Expect to see a real boxing match.

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

See it if You're looking for a powerful drama, riveting acting and staging that makes you forget you're in a theater all in ninety minutes.

Don't see it if The Ice Capades is your idea of high brow entertainment.

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

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.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Great acting

See it if You are interested in America's racial history, want to see amazing staging, a show about boxing, set in the ring, not one punch thrown.

Don't see it if You do not want to know the truth, do not want to feel the intense pain of suffering caused others.

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great staging, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You want great, compelling, tightly directed theatre. The writing, acting, and directing are masterful. A story of contemporary issues

Don't see it if No reason not to see this. Rachel Chavkin's direction is astoundingly tight.

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

See it if you're ready for an emotional journey. It perfectly captures and distills the legacy of the racial divide in the U.S. Exquisite acting!

Don't see it if -you're indifferent or in denial about the racial divide in the U.S. -you don't like serious drama -you want something light and fluffy

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Original

See it if You enjoy great acting and a new way to present a topic. I don't care for boxing but I loved The Royale. Innovative and riveting.

Don't see it if You don't enjoy new, original ways to present a topic.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Must see

See it if you like boxing, historical plays, and great acting.

Don't see it if you're in the mood for something fluffy and feel-good.

Great staging, Great acting, Entertaining, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if entertaining theater that's well acted, written, directed and staged. Great moments. More about crossing the color line than boxing

Don't see it if If you don't like themes about race.

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

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, Great acting, Great staging, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if Show was at Lincoln Center in a limited run and has closed. If it is ever staged again, don't miss it!

Don't see it if You are not interested in Art imitating Life with a dose of reality mixed in.

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

See it if You like thought provoking, relevant and intelligent well acted theater

Don't see it if You don't like thought provoking, relevant and intelligent well acted theater

Absorbing, Masterful, Must see, Intense, Well acted

See it if You like love intense acting You like alternative stagings and choices to tell a story

Don't see it if if you like literal stories and staging

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Profound, Riveting, Resonant

See it if you're looking for a minimalistic, well-written/performed drama that packs a punch.

Don't see it if you don't want an intellectual evening at the theatre.

Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Resonant, Relevant

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.

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.

Cast & Creatives (12)