Los Angeles Theater Review: THE ROYALE (Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on May 16, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE ROYALE PACKS A PUNCH SLAP

There are many things to recommend about The Royale, currently making its World Premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The staging is brilliant, the fight choreography mesmerizing, the lighting stunning, the music and sound enthralling, Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.and many of the performances are excellent. So what then prevents this drama from becoming a “one-two knockout punch” and relegates it to little more than a watered down “bitch slap?” The script — or more accurately the lack of a script.

As is so often the case in the theater today, new plays are really “playlets” performed in less than 90 minutes without an intermission. A sort of drama-lite that does not allow for the full exploration of the characters or the subject matter. It’s been said that it’s always better to leave the audience wanting more. That may be true, but these glorified one-acts frequently just leave the audience wanting. Wanting a fully fleshed out story they can care about. Wanting characters that they can identify with. Wanting a full course theatrical banquet that leaves them emotional satiated.  Instead what’s served up here is a superficial and cursory exploratory tease that leaves the audience hungering for more.

The script by Marco Ramirez, which takes place in the early 1900s, deals with a fictional black boxer, Jay Jackson (David St. Louis) and his quest to take on the Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.reigning white champ and become the heavyweight champion of the world. Of course the sport, like much of society at the time, was segregated and his aspirations filled the hearts of all with fear and apprehension. Unlike The Great White Hope, an actual full-length play which dealt with real-life champion Jack Johnson and his life after he became champ, The Royale concentrates on Jackson’s ascension to the throne and what surely will be the ensuing repercussions of his achievement (plus, Hope opened on Broadway — starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander — in one of the USA’s greatest years of racial unrest: 1968).

At first the tale revolves solely around Jackson’s drive and determination, but when his sister Nina (Diarra Oni Kilpatrick) arrives on the scene the focus shifts to what Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.the fallout will be. She views his actions not as bravery but selfishness. She clearly believes he is behaving recklessly and not taking into account the danger he is placing all blacks in by standing up and breaking the color barrier. It’s a real fear and concern and probably not unlike what many felt when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. The backlash of the actions of a single person, no matter how heroic, can cause the suffering and persecution of many. While Nina feels it’s safer to continue the status quo than rock the boat, without these pioneers we would all find ourselves in a sad state of affairs.

Director Daniel Aukin does an admirable job with the hand he’s been dealt. He coaxes strong performances out of the cast and for the most part keeps the action moving although it would have been helpful to have the actors pick up the pace of their delivery in some of the slower sections. A little bit of quiet intensity goes a long Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.way. It’s not until Ms. Kilpatrick arrives on the scene that the show finally gathers some much needed steam.

The real high points of the production are the staging and the technical execution. Ameenah Kaplan is credited with Movement and Rhythm and what she has wrought is hypnotic. The fights are highly stylized and choreographed. Punches are thrown in slow motion into midair accompanied by stomps to signify their arrival at their intended target. The boxers are on opposite sides of the stage and never directly interact with their opponent. Anticipation is built through the syncopated hand-slapping rhythms of the entire cast. The action is accentuated by Lap Chi Chu’s bursts of light and Ryan Rumery’s original music and sound design. Andrew Boyce’s set design is sleek and simplistic but defies logic when it serves a dual purpose of being both cold and stark and yet at other times warm and welcoming.

Mr. St. Louis shines as Jay. He cuts a striking and imposing vision and is always convincing in his portrayal. Robert Cossett as Jay’s trainer Wynton and Desean Terry as Jay’s adversary turned sparring partner Fish are both excellent. I only wish Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.Mr. Ramirez gave them more to work with. Miss Kilpatrick is a real standout as Nina. She commands the stage and she brings a real sense of immediacy to her role. Keith Szarabajka playing several roles (promoter, referee, ring announcer, and  reporters) isn’t given much to do and unfortunately he doesn’t do much with what he’s given.

Yes, there is a lot to like about The Royale and it’s probably worth a gander if not just for the staging alone. As long as you know you’re not in for a knock out you’ll be fine; and if not, you’ll be out of there before they can ring the bell for round 5.

photos by Craig Schwartz

The Royale
Center Theatre group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
scheduled to end on June 2, 2013
for tickets, call(213) 628-2772 or visit http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

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