City Theatre has been described by The New York Times as "Pittsburgh's most innovative theater company," and I would have to agree. As the largest theatre dedicated to new play development, it is the place to be to see cutting-edge, bold theatrical performances.
Speaking of bold theatrical performances - I saw their current show "The Royale" last weekend and I can't stop raving about it to everyone I meet.
Here's the synopsis: Jay "The Sport" Jackson is the main character, based on real life African American boxer Jack Johnson. He has his sights set on becoming the heavyweight champion of the world in 1905, during a time when racial tensions are high and America is segregated due to Jim Crow. Black boxers could meet white boxers in other competitions, but the world heavyweight championship were off limits to them. The Royale follows one man's quest for victory against all the odds, and it chronicles the sacrifices that he must make in return.
Watching "The Royale" against the backdrop of African American History Month gives the viewer even more to ponder. "It's a play that has real resonance to our present challenges as a nation, but as told through the lens of sports, it makes for a highly entertaining and exciting piece of theatre," says Artistic Director Tracy Brigden. Playright Marco Ramirez is known for his work on television shows Orange is the New Black and Marvel's Daredevil, both on Netflix.
The characters are few, which adds to the intimacy of this performance, and the intensity is high for the entire 90 minutes. The set is simple, and the story is told through powerful lighting and soundscape effects. Similar to a Shakespearean play, there is a notable rhythm to "The Royale". Instead of iambic pentameter, however, the action and dialogue flows through the claps and stomps of the actors on stage. Words and sounds are the stars.
In fact, the boxers on stage never touch, yet the fight scenes are as brutal as a punch to the gut. The intensity and raw emotions of this performance are conveyed by the body percussionists on stage who provide the soundtrack. "Each moment is punctuated by the live soundscape that Stephanie (Body Percussion Choreographer) creates, and when the fight goes down, you feel it in your own body in a really human way. The energy is incredible, it's something you just have to experience live," Laura Greenawalt, Marketing Director for City Theatre says.
While the characters on stage are fighting each other, they are also fighting their own internal demons, notably evidenced by Jay's sister who appears as an "opponent" during his heavyweight battle, encouraging Jay to give up his championship aspirations and to stay safe instead.
"The Royale" has performances until Feb 12, and I really encourage you to check it out - It's a knockout. (Sorry, I had to.)
City Theatre rounds out its season this spring with "The Guard", a time-bending journey through art (Mar 11-Apr 2), grief-stricken comedy "Wild With Happy" (Apr 8-May 7) and "Ironbound", the story of a Polish Immigrant searching for the American Dream (May 13-Jun 4). I personally can't wait to see them all.