We meet this fictionalized version of Jack Johnson, called Jay, as he's trying to become the world heavyweight champion, except that the current champ won't fight him because he's black. His wheeler-dealer of a promoter is finally able to secure the fight by promising the opponent 90% of the box office gains. An unfair deal, but Jay just wants the chance to fight. He sets to training with his tough longtime manager and a new sparring partner. Jay basks in the glow of the press leading up to the fight, until the questions start to get ugly, and he starts to receive death threats from ignorant people threatened by equality. Even Jay's sister asks him not to do the fight, for fear of retribution on her family if he wins. But Jay isn't just fighting for sport, he's fighting for something much more important, and the very reasons people don't want him to fight is why he must.
|Jay's big fight (David Murray, Charles Fraser, and Tamala Lacy|
(photo courtesy of Yellow Tree)
|Jay (David Murray) with his sparring partner (Santino Craven)|
and manager (James Craven, photo courtesy of Yellow Tree)
One thing that particularly struck me was Jay's description of his sister admiring the posters of beautiful women outside of the town drugstore when they were kids, and the awful feeling when she realized, and internalized, that none of them looked like her. I couldn't help but think of the huge success of the new movie Black Panther this past weekend, and how movies like this give little girls and boys with dark skin and tightly curled hair images of strong, beautiful, heroic, fully rounded people who look like them. That's exactly what Jay was fighting for.
Every element of this production is so well thought out with incredible attention to detail, and proves that you can say a lot with few words and a short amount of time. The Royale is another fine achievement for my favorite theater in the 'burbs. Continuing through March 4.