By Marco Ramirez
Directed by Julius John
Starring Rich Lowe
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL
by Carl F. Gauze
For a typical century, the 20th had more than its fair share of “Fights of the Century.” I found 45 on Amazon, but this renowned bout is the first between Jay “The Sport” Jackson (Lowe) and the recently retired white heavyweight champion, Jim Jefferies. We never meet Jefferies, rather we focus on the dynamic between Jackson, his white manager Max (Justin Dresdner), his crusty trainer Wynton (Dwayne Broadnax) and his sparing partner Fish (K. Leo Anderson). Jay takes a very one sided contract just for a crack at Jefferies. On the eave of the fight, Jay’s sister Nina (Segen Gebremariam-Bush) arrives and tries to talk him out of the fight, fearing for his life, win or lose, in the this racially charged era. Jay has a solid chance at beating the semi-retired Jefferies, and an even better chance for getting lynched afterwards. It’s a tough call, but we all die in the end.
While the show lacks an “Official” boxing ring, they do have one of those shockingly loud bells to announce the start and stop of the beatings. There’s sparing on stage, but it’s for effect and not intended to damage the actors. After all, this is theater and there’s a matinee tomorrow and you can only afford so many understudies. Lowe’s Jay is ambitious and immortal and starry eyed over what he can do, but less concerned about the after math. Wynton remains much calmer; he’s had his share of wins and losses and missing teeth. He’s cautious and realistic and at a point in life with big wins are only a path to bigger mystery. Anderson’s Fish is the happy-go-lucky side kick, his greatest joy is discovering a bar with 23 different flavors of bourbon. Not even Total Wine can claim that. Jays’ sister offers an alternative path, and when the big fight begins, she becomes our proxie for the unseen Jefferies. But I liked Max most of all, he was the business guy who knew his business, and while he didn’t control Jay, he tried to keep him alive. There ain’t no money in managing in a dead man.
The Royale takes us to a place regular theater goer may not have experienced. I’ve seen a few fights on TV in time, but overall it’s an alien world and this show does what theater does best – takes you some place fantastic, shows you around, and then safely gets you back home. Tonight is not really about sports, it’s about surviving in your safe zone and then trying to break out. And that might not make you many friends. But you’re good with that.