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THEATER REVIEW King Liz
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-06-07

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Playwright: Fernanda Coppel. At: Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets: $15-$55. Runs through: July 16

From the moment that Fernanda Coppel's morality fable opens to reveal a sumptuous office in the corporate headquarters of Candy Agencies, where "It's-good-to-be-king" African-American sports agent Liz Rico and her much-abused assistant, Gabby, are simultaneously issuing orders via Bluetooth, we know that these are powerful people and that big bucks are at stake.

The reason behind this theatrical fizz is a Red Hook high school basketball player named Freddy Luna who already boasts stats like LeBron—not to mention an immigrant history perfect for up-from-poverty success-story appeal—and whom Liz's boss wants her to sign up pursuant to nurturing the future star of the New York Knicks.

Liz is skeptical, however, having grown up in an environment not unlike that of her potential client and knowing well what happens when young men at their hormonal peak are thrust into the spotlight unprepared. Freddy may want only to play basketball in order to buy a house for his mother and his siblings, scattered to foster homes, but despite the efforts of his handlers, he is beset by reporters intent on delving into his troubled past, provoking him to outbursts of anger incompatible with the wholesome image sought by sponsors. Amid escalating scandal, Liz must decide whether to stay the course or sever relations with the talented, but undisciplined, adolescent too long accustomed to being abandoned.

The current Chicago theater season showcases a number of plays exploring the connection between athletic activities as viewed by the participants as opposed to perceived by spectators in search of warrior-fantasy thrills. Chuck Smith's direction ensures our comprehension of the issues under scrutiny, even as a whip-smart cast led by Lanise Shelley as the ambitious Liz and Eric Gerard as the volatile Freddy ( with likewise stereotype-free characterizations by Phillip Edward Van Lear, Frank Nall and Jackie Alamillo ) swap repartee with a speed and agility propelling the narrative at the dizzying velocity of NBA contenders at the top of their game.

Tragedy was once the sole province of gods and kings—individuals endowed with the luxury of choosing their own path, for good or ill. In our secular non-royalist society nowadays, those rising to exalted positions through their own labors are no less vulnerable to crippling hubris, but what rescues them from the excesses of their classical counterparts ( and makes us like them in spite of their mistakes ) is their resiliency in accepting their error and vowing to utilize their second chance more wisely.


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