Fighting Racism From the Ring in 'The Royale'

[photo: Roger Mastroianni]
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Inspired by the true story of boxing legend Jack Johnson, the latest Cleveland Play House production, "The Royale," tells the fictional tale of an African-American boxer dodging punches and racism in the early 20th century. 

However, award-winning playwright Marco Ramirez has written a story that also reflects racial issues of today. 

"From Jesse Owens to Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick to Lebron [James], something like 'shut up and dribble' doesn't seem like it's only about now.  We've been seeing that pattern and response to black celebrities for a very long time," said director Robert Barry Fleming.

The play's pacing is influenced by the fact that Ramirez isn't just an award-winning playwright but an accomplished writer for television as well.

"Because he writes for 'Daredevil' and 'Sons of Anarchy' he also knows how to adapt, in terms of pace, speed and excitement, a narrative for a contemporary audience that might want to tune in for an hour," Fleming said.

This in turn helps reach out to contemporary audiences not used to sitting through a long stage play.

"Some people find plays 'talky,' find them slow moving.  They don't seem to feel like they have much resonance with what our lives are like today," he said.

For his part, Fleming thinks Cleveland audiences are open to contemporary plays that are challenging.

"I came to Cleveland not just because my father was born here and I have people here, but because it feels like the quintessentially American city.  You know we're people who make enormous mistakes, but also innovate to navigate our way out of it," he said.

"The Royale" is onstage at Cleveland Play House through Sunday, May 27th.



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