Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

The Royale
Review by Mary LaFrance

Jamey Clay-brown, Sabrina Cofield, Nate Marbel,
Mario Peoples, and Mervin Alexander

Photo by Richard Brusky
At the start of the twentieth century, an African-American man vying for the world heavyweight boxing title was more than just sports news. For many white Americans in the Jim Crow era, the possibility that a black boxer might vanquish the reigning white champion threatened to upend their entire world view, and brought their racial animus to a boiling point. And for the man himself, the prospect of breaking this barrier, with the potential consequences for himself and the vulnerable black community, must have been as terrifying as it was compelling.

Playwright Marco Ramirez captures this powerful moment in America's social history in The Royale, inspired by the story of Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight champion, embodied here in the character of Jay "The Sport" Jackson. Tightly written and fiercely physical, The Royale is a fiery tinderbox of words and motion.

Staged by innovative director Kate St-Pierre, the LAB LV's production packs an emotional wallop. The boxing scenes are staged head-on to the audience. Body percussion, composed by Jason Nious and executed by the performers, conveys the rhythm and intensity of the fight, and signifies the black community's connection to the unfolding events. There is no physical contact between the fighters. Instead, the percussion, lighting, and fighters' physical reactions tell us when and where the punches land. Timothy Burris's spare set design, with just a hint of a boxing ring, leaves the image-making to the performers. The effect is visceral.

The on-stage electricity is not confined to the intensely physical scenes. The dialog is spare and powerful. Every moment in this fast-paced production is fueled by a potent mix of suspense and unease.

As Jay, Mario Peoples commands the stage with his powerful but understated presence, injecting disarming warmth and charm as he deftly bobs and weaves his way through a press conference where the questions become increasingly racist. As the play nears its climax, Jay's face and body, so assured at the start, reflect his mounting disquiet as he begins to wonder who, if anyone, is actually on his side. In one scene, he methodically tapes his hands in complete silence except for the sound of the tape, yet the intensity of these small movements betrays his internal turmoil, which he then unleashes in a ferocious burst of shadow boxing.

Nate Marbel is fascinating and compelling as Max, the "world's only interracial fight promoter," who uses his white privilege to navigate the racist corridors of the boxing world to see how far Jay can go. As Wynton, Jay's grey-haired trainer and himself a former fighter, Mervin Alexander creates one of the play's most harrowing moments as he describes (based on historical truth) what once passed as African-American "boxing" at the hands of the white establishment. Jamey Clay-Brown is sympathetic and convincing as Fish, a young African-American boxer just looking for his ticket out of the Navy Yards. Sabrina Cofield makes a powerful impression as Nina, Jay's sister, whose life has a complex connection with his ambitions.

With its outstanding cast, powerful script, and sharp direction, The Royale is—like the "fight of the century"—an event not to be missed.

The Royale runs through November 24, 2019, at The Playhouse, 528 S. Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. For tickets ($20 in advance; $25 at the door; $15 military/students/seniors) and information, visit

Jay: Mario Peoples
Nina: Sabrina Cofield
Wynton: Mervin Alexander
Max: Nate Marbel
Fish: Jamey Clay-Brown

Additional Creative:
Lighting Design: Dave Clark
Costume Design: Dustin Shaffer