PICTURE this… an intimate playhouse full of plush seating and trays for food and drink- all surrounding a long, rectangular staging area that feels more like the audience’s own living room- if our living rooms contained basketball trophies and a state of the art sound system blasting rap music.
Off of the theater itself, by the front entrance, there stands a full bar offering themed cocktails like “dynamite dunker.” Audience members requiring a bathroom break open the door to an imposing voice enumerating “bathroom facts” over a speaker, accompanied by pulsing lights. The theater presents itself as young, hip, and top of the line, and its production King Liz is no different.
King Liz, written by Fernanda Coppel, tells the story of sports agent Liz Rico (played by Lanise Shelley), whose career advancement depends wholly upon her management of just-out-of-high-school rookie Freddie Luna’s basketball career. The concise yet prolific play explores themes of ambition, the ever-imposing threat of failure, the importance of autonomy, and the challenges facing a woman of color in a white man’s world.
The production is played out on a small scale, using two sides of the stage to demonstrate a change in location. Liz and her assistant seamlessly move from her office to the public sphere and back again, their personas and sense of place shifting as they do so.
The first act thoroughly introduces Liz’s character, her career, and what she had to do to get there. It effortlessly weaves in the play’s central themes as well as the conflict posed by the young and rash Freddie Luna (played by Eric Gerard). Its dialogue remains witty and engaging throughout,. From this writer’s perspective, the engaging dialogue goes a long way to bolster a slightly weaker second act that seems to lose sense of its protagonists’ characterization and central motif.
Whether you too sense a script flaw or not, you’ll likely similarly be impressed by the acting and directing in this production. The actors hold strong through the second act’s difficulties, doing justice to the script’s snappy dialogue by endowing their characters with spirit and strength. They simultaneously work with the dialogue and impeccable direction (Director: Chuck Smith) to reveal underlying flaws, bit by bit. We get treated to fully fleshed-out characters with true lives of their own.
Director Chuck Smith displays a mastery of space through the actors’ movement, whether through their interaction with the space of the stage or their characters’ own personal tics. The music (Sound Design: Thomas Dixon) always loud, modern, and explicit, aligns itself successfully with the two worlds Liz embodies- the world of her childhood in the projects as well as the world of cockiness, ambition, and competition that is professional basketball.
At the play’s end the actors receive a standing ovation, though on this night it rings out softly with only about ten audience members in the room. Windy City Playhouse may still be a relatively unknown addition to Chicago theater (only in its second season), but it offers a luxurious viewing experience of a modern, energetic, and wittily progressive production.
This writer urges you to go see King Liz and then help spread the word of its many merits. Its talented actors, writers, and director deserve a larger audience to make the expected standing ovation thunder.
For more information visit the Windy City Playhouse website.
Now though July 16th
Wednesdays- 7:30 PM
Thursdays- 7:30 PM
Fridays- 8:00 PM
Saturdays- 8:00 PM
Sundays- 3:00 PM
Purchase at: http://windycityplayhouse.com/king-liz/
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.