The Lantern Theater Company continues its season with the Philadelphia premiere of “The Royale” by award-winning playwright Marco Ramirez. The play, which takes inspiration from the life of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight world boxing champion, continues at St. Stephen’s Theatre Nov. 10 through Dec. 11.
The year is 1905, a racially-charged time in our nation. Ramirez’s drama is filled with the people who are fighting for freedom, dignity and success in a fascinating and important chapter in our national story.
Philadelphia native Phillip Brown takes the role of Jay “The Sport” Jackson who won the championship title in a segregated world where he and many others were threatened by the very thought of his defeating a white man.
Brown says he knew he wanted a career in show business ever since he was in high school, but wasn’t sure what part of the business?
A graduate of Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Brown later went on to attend and graduate from the University of the Arts. Deciding to expand his horizons, he traveled extensively, and lived in New York and Los Angeles for awhile, trying on different hats until he could find the one that fit the best.
For example, in L.A. he was the acting/dialogue coach and “punch-up” writer on several original hit Disney shows. Prior to Disney, Brown spent much of his professional career writing, acting, directing, taking on film production, and more.
The list goes on and on and on.
“In 2007, I lost my brother so I decided to move back to Philadelphia,” Brown recalls. “One day, I got a call from the Shipley School telling me they were looking for a director of the school’s theater and they wanted me. I was surprised because I hadn’t even applied for the job, so in the beginning, I refused the offer.”
But eventually Brown relented and decided to accept the job, putting his own acting career on hold for many years, although “I did manage to sneak some roles in from time to time,” he laughs.
“And then one day, I got a call from Zuhairah McGill (who is directing this show) to read for a part at Quintessence Theatre.” Not only was Brown cast, but the experience whet his appetite for acting once more.
That’s when his phone started ringing again offering him roles in local productions. He took many of them. And Brown says he’s especially happy to be taking this role at the Lantern.
“Our show is completely fictional, although it’s based on the life of a real man who defied all odds – as well as the voices and pleas of the people around him – to become the world’s first Black boxing champion.”
But all his efforts were not without consequences. “This was the first decade of the 20th century, and Jay has to grapple with the repercussions of crossing the color barrier,” Brown reminds us. “The idea of a Black man stepping into the ring with a white man was unheard of.
“But he does, and so he must confront violent, fiscal, political, and personal limitations as the reality and weight of racial tensions in America become transparent,” Brown concludes.
For tickets call 215-829-0395.
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