My mom was a theater major at Antioch College. As a little girl en route to one of our first shows, I remember her telling me about her final project, bringing an original production to life . . . casting actors, building entire sets, the works. Painstaking as it was, she’d loved it. Her story was bright with detail, accompanied by a proud smile. So whenever I am witness to noteworthy performances, like the one A Tribe Called sOLStarr* attended earlier this month, I think of my mom.
Somewhere in between Dizzy’s orchestral ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and Coleman Hawkins’ ‘Since I Fell For You’ my local jazz station broadcasts theater reviews, and this one for The Royale was serious y’all. The reviewer of this Jack Johnson story based production was positively charged, and enthused with praise for the entire cast, that included some of Broadway’s best. And being the HBG that I am, I secured us tickets for the day prior to my husband’s departure for the Association of Ringside Physicians Annual Meeting (y’all know how we do, curating the whole experience).
Source (Left) | The Old Globe, The Royale printed flyer (photo: Jim Cox) Source (Right) | Starr Lopez, HBG
And phenomenal it was. Performed in the round at The Old Globe, this play truly lent itself to the boxing ring, in which the majority of the story took place. Jay “The Sport” Jackson is a character who’s life appeared to mirror that of the real life Black heavy weight world champion, Jack Johnson. The intense buildup to Jay “The Sport” Jackson’s career fight left me convinced we’d slipped into a time warp, and to be Black in the early 1900’s was every bit terrifying as I imagined. And let’s be real, noting the predominantly white audience by which we were surrounded helped carry this sentiment for me even further. The momentum of this successful storyline was completely powered by a masterful cast of 5, who seamlessly wove the internal and external struggles of not only Jay “The Sport” Jackson, but his sister, Nina, and a tightly bound boxing camp. That night, the fight ring was left bloodied and sullied with the remnants of literal and metaphorical battles of which the victors became less and less easily identifiable.
Blue and always Black, I held my husband’s hand as we walked to our car . . . stunned and every bit grateful for it. Jack Johnson lives. Mos Def (and Shuggie Otis) know . . .
Wit’ yo mighty swing
And yo flashy smile
Let them see the light
You so black and bright
You so bright you black
Shining you crying to fight them back.
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