Off-Broadway Review: “Kings” at the Public Theater

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic
  • Outer Critics Circle

If there was any doubt about the monumental influence of lobbyists on Members of Congress in Washington, D.C., that uncertainty was dispelled quickly after the tragic murder of seventeen students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday February 14, 2018. Barely had the nations bereavement process begun before the NRA and the massive “I Carry” movement swept in blaming everything and everyone except the easy access to firearms in the United States. The NRA lobbyists were already at work to ensure their agenda would continue to prevail. And after the Florida Legislature passed a progressive gun control bill, that same NRA recently sued the State of Florida.

 Photo: Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis in “Kings.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Photo: Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis in “Kings.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Though not quite as strident as the NRA’s spokesperson Dana Loesch, Iridium Policy Group’s Kate Totten (Gillian Jacobs), the aggressive lobbyist for the Podiatrists’ Association, tries to cultivate Rep. Sydney Millsap (Eisa Davis) at her fundraiser in Vail to introduce legislation that would require “a patient on Medicare or Medicaid who sees a non-specialist physician and complains about severe pain in the ankle or foot would have to see a podiatrist before receiving a prescription for any opioid-based painkiller.” Millsap is “the first woman and first person of color ever to represent [her] district,” so Kate (inappropriately) uses these status issues to garner the Representative’s support.

Shortly thereafter, Lauren (Aya Cash) lobbies Sydney Millsap to vote “No” on a bill (The Carried Interest Fairness Act) the congressperson supports.  And Sen. John McDowell (Zach Grenier) tries to convince Millsap to leave Washington and return home to Texas for a civilian job. All this backhanded chicanery gets extremely complicated: it gets probably more complicated than it needs to be and obfuscates the important themes driven by the characters’ important and relevant conflicts.

It is difficult for a script and a cast of actors, even as talented at this “King’s” cast, to compete with the reality of the headlines. The challenge comes not only from the vigor of the daily news but also from the somewhat dated material in the narrative itself. Under Thomas Kail’s uneven direction, the actors often appear to be talking “at” one another instead of engaging in believable conversation.

Somewhere beneath the veneer of relevance, there are buried rich, enduring questions. However, the burdensome script obfuscates these with the odor of freshly made and served on-stage Chili’s fajitas, and cumbersome conversations cluttered with predictable rhetoric. For example, is it true in the realm of American politics that “no good deed goes unpunished” or that honesty and integrity will always be upended?

Occasionally, Eisa Davis’s Millsap and Zach Grenier’s McDowell ratchet up that rhetoric with compelling performances that briefly enliven the otherwise bland action. Whether those moments justify the remainder of staging remains up to the audience member who can make that judgment until April 1, 2018.

KINGS

The cast of “Kings” features Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs.

The creative team for “Kings” features Scenic Design by Anna Louizos, Costume Design by Paul Tazewell, Lighting Design by Jason Lyons, and Original Music & Sound Design by Lindsay Jones. CJ LaRoche serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Kings” runs at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday March 25, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.publictheater.org/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/17-18-Season/Kings/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis in “Kings.” Credit: Joan Marcus.