Off-Broadway Review: ‘Kingdom Come’, the modern take on “catfishing”

Asys Danilova

  • New York Critic

You probably remember “Catfish”, a 2010 documentary about the guy Nev Schulman who meets a girl named Megan on Facebook and falls in love with her, only to realize that she is a fictional character and somebody else is maintaining her online profile and their romantic relationship. The documentary later developed into a reality TV show on MTV and followed other people and their online dating adventures for 5 seasons (November 2012 – February 2016). 

The term “catfish”, referring to a person who creates a fake online profile in order to trick others into a relationship, spread across the Internet and now made its way to the theater. The new play by Jenny Rachel Weiner, “Kingdom come”, currently on stage of the Roundabout’s Black Box Theatre, presents us with a romantic comedy about the drama of online dating. 

Samantha’s obesity became a medical condition when we meet her, reclining on her bed. She leaves her comforting fortress just a handful of times during the show, making each of these times a dramatic ballet of hope and despair.  Carmen M. Herlihy, in enormous fat suit is great as Samantha and, even though she doesn’t move around much, she is very animated and lively. I never even thought that an actor’s feet can convey such a wide range of emotions! Sami spends much of her time watching TV. But then she discovers an even more exciting way to live the lives of others; online dating. Sami adopts the personality of Dominick, her caregiver’s handsome son, and off she goes rocking the world of ladies on the Internet. 

Layne (Crystal Finn) is 33, works at an insurance office, and has no one to talk to. One night Layne, a mousy loner, befriends Suz (Stephanie Styles), a 23-year-old dumb but pretty office secretary, and gets advice to try online dating. After a few awkward encounters, she stumbles upon KingDOMCom42, a pastry chef from California, who just gets her. Ashamed of her own boring personality, Layne comes up with a new identity for herself; an adventurous stewardess Courtney. 

The two hit it off. The physical reality, created by the set designer Arnulfo Maldonado, steps aside as the video projection design, by Darrel Maloney, fills the space. As the two actresses talk to each other, laptop in hands, gaze staring in front of them, we see their live chat in two screen windows above their heads. But when they get intimate or are about to have a fight, the entire room changes into a landscape of a virtual reality, a very simple and poetic idea. 

The ensemble of five characters is the most unlikely company you will find in a play. The three young ladies are joined by a caregiver, Delores (Socorro Santiago), and her son, Dominick (Alex Hernandez). At some point, all five of them even end up in the same room together. “Kingdom Come” is a play full of heart, laughter, and surprises where you genuinely can’t predict what is going to happen to these people. 

I wasn’t quite sure why the director, Kip Fagan, chose to emphasize the comedic element in the characters to such a strong degree: Delores seemed way too happy and optimistic all the time, while Layne’s neuroticism was a bit over the top. And finally, Suz was a mere “young secretary sleeping with the married boss” caricature. Fagan’s work with set space also remains questionable. “Sami’s apartment” set had to be multiple things, which is fine, theater viewers are ready for all kind of conventions. But when Suz appeared from a closet, sliding a mirrored door as if it was a door into her house I couldn’t help but chuckle.  

‘Kingdom Come’ runs in Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre at 111 W. 46th St, Midtown Manhattan until December 18th. Tickets are $25 and are available by reaching the ticket services (212.719.1300) or on the Roundabout’s website  

Photo: Joan Marcus