"King Liz" Review- Fast Paced and Tough-Talking

“King Liz”, currently in production at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park, through July 16th, is the story of a beautiful and brilliant black woman who denies or submerges her sexuality in her drive to succeed, and almost loses her soul on the way up. She’s a sports agent, second in command to- of course- a white male, set to inherit the fiefdom. She rides roughshod over her assistant, calls the shots with team managers, and has made big money promoting. However, she meets her match and more with Freddie Luna, a very troubled and very talented basketball-playing kid from the same Brooklyn projects Liz escaped. She’s been offered the brass ring- to be head of the company- if she makes this deal, although it’s never explained why this one youth could possibly be so important, an obvious flaw in the script.

Eric Gerard, Lanise Shelley and Phillip Edward Van Lear

Written by Fernanda Coppel, and starring Lanise Shelley, Eric Gerard, Jackie Alamillo, Frank Nall, Phillip Edward Van Lear and Caron Buinis, under the taut direction of Chuck Smith, this is a fast-paced expletive-filled play with a super turn-around ending. Kudos to costume designer Elsa Hiltner for perfectly fitted and apropos garments, (love those leather pants), right-on sound design by Thomas Dixon, and a really special divided set that took full advantage of the width of the stage by Courtney O’Neill. My only set criticism and suggestion? Ditch King Liz’s wig- classy and flattering as it may have been, Shelley couldn’t take her hands out of it, a real distraction.

Eric Gerard, Lanise Shelley and Jackie Alamillo

We get a first-hand look at the world of corporate image making, and if it isn’t pretty or surprising, it certainly is raw and eye opening. Liz has clawed her way from the Ivy League up the corporate ladder. She demonstrates a pronounced self-confidence in the pronouncements she makes, but she uses her lower-downs, and is used by her higher-up. She also has no compunction about sharing her body, but only when it suits her; she shuns commitment or even romance.

Eric Gerard

For whatever unlikely or foolish reasons, she is willing to promote a young man who-it’s painfully obvious- is going to flame out and quickly. Despite his ominous criminal background, painful naiveté, and inability to control himself, she continues to pull strings for him. Is it only because she thinks he can get her the company? Surely she has handled other aspiring hopefuls from a similar background to her own? Why don’t alarm bells go off before the awful denouement? Why does she handle his outrageous gaffes so demurely? These are issues that simply don’t get addressed as the events take on a collision course of their own. Despite some of the obvious unanswered questions, or perhaps because of them- after all, whose life and behavior are uniformly explicable? - this is a thoroughly diverting piece of entertainment. At two hours (with an intermission), the strong acting of these very compelling if a tad cliché-ridden characters holds your interest all the way. These actors invest their personae with authenticity and energy.

Lanise Shelley, Jackie Alamillo and Eric Gerard

Lanise Shelley is not just a physical knockout; her ferocity and savvy are extremely compelling. Jackie Alamillo is terrific as the assistant/Girl Friday who is waiting very closely in the wings. Eric Gerard, also physically prepossessing, (especially when wrapped in nothing but a low-slung towel) does an outstanding job of morphing from slang-spouting street-tripper to vulnerable pleader. Phillip Edward Van Lear is absolutely believable as the world-weary and worldly-wise coach. Frank Nall is delightfully smarmy as the boss.  Caron Buinis has a small part as a TV talk show host, but she’s done her homework in every sense, and pulls off a hit in an on-the-air interview. While an underlying but oft-mentioned theme- that of racial discrimination- really doesn’t ring true in this particular context, what does stir in the consciousness is the underlying sweetness of these oh-so-driven people. The play is well-done, enjoyable and recommended.

 

Eric Gerard, Jackie Alamillo and Lanise Shelley

Tickets and more information at the Windy City website

 

 All photos of the actors starrung  in "King Liz" at  Windy City Playhouse by Michael Brosilow 

 

 

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