From the minute I stepped into Windy City Playhouse’s colorful, elegant the stage area designed by Courtney O’Neill with fantastic lights and sounds by Thomas Dixon, I knew I was in for a treat. 

King Liz is named for the beautiful, sexy and high-powered sports agent Liz Rico played superbly with real gusto and stage presence galore by Lanise Antoine Shelley. 

Liz Rico is a woman who grew up in the projects, overcame great poverty and rose to the top of a male dominated industry. Rico, one of the best sports agents in the business, is about to be promoted to the head of her firm by her retiring boss Mr. Candy (Frank Nall).

Mr. Candy's last offer to her to make her his new head of firm is based on her ability to sign a new and talented high school basketball player Freddie Luna (Eric Gerard). Luna is a true talent likened to Kobe Bryant but comes with a history of violence and temper tantrums as he too has been brought up in the projects and was doing his best to survive as he knew how. 

Eric Gerard is also great in his role, showing how deeply he feels about needing to escape his checkered past and the projects by riding his basketball gifts into the big time. Gerard also plays the role well in that the audience sees and feels great compassion for him as he uses his limited social skills to try and fit into the fast-paced media swirl he is placed in, sometimes causing his own downfall, his sometimes feral temper getting the best of him. Though Luna can often be charming and polite, prying journalists after the next big sports story target his unbridled emotions and get the best of him when digging into his past that he so desperately wants to put behind him.

Gabby (Jackie Alamillo) is Liz Rico’s assistant and though grateful for her highly valued mentorship has been made to "eat crow" so many times, every day at work, by Liz. Gabby is also eager for Liz to get the promotion, if only because she will then fill Rico’s job. Alamillo is perfect as the once meek but now hardened assistant who has given up everything including her own sense of self-worth at times in order to succeed in this male dominated field. 

In the meantime, Knick’s Coach Jones does his best with Luna hoping this new prodigy will cement his long time career. Coach Jones, played with great compassion of soul and accuracy by Phillip Edward Van Lear, really drives the play’s message home and is totally believable in the role of a big league coach who also has been beaten down somewhat by an industry which cares more about profit margins than human lives and protecting the players who make the game possible.  

We learn along the way that "King Liz" had a sexual relationship with the coach in the past when over dinner he states he “would like to make love to her again”, that “she needs affection” and "was making animal sounds" the last time they were together but Liz will only accept his offer if he realizes she wants no commitment involved or even romance. 

Liz, over the course of the show, begins to realize that she has isolated herself from the world of love and relationships for so long that even though she is rich and on all the most important people lists like Forbes Fortune 500, she has also given up her chances to have children and a husband among other things and is faced with the biggest decision of her life to try and salvage her soul and dignity as a human being.

The play is delivered fast and furiously with many exciting twists and turns and light and scene design changes. It reminded me of the film “Draft Day” starring Kevin Costner that shows just how much constant pressure and money is riding on these agents and their young, often inexperienced and naive clients – the promises made and the slugfests that occur between agencies and teams to sign elite talent. We learn how much athlete image control weighs into a successful sports career for those that have a hard time staying out of trouble.

King Liz is also the story of two completely different paths taken from two people, both African Americans, who grew up in the same projects. Ambitious, disciplined and determined, Liz carved a trail for herself to succeed in the business world by obtaining a Yale education and learning the social graces and toughness that positions herself to rise up the corporate ladder. She’s hard-nosed and no-nonsense and does not make excuses. At the same time, Luna, though mega-talented, struggles to mature or find a sense of responsibility. He blows up with little provocation and misses key business appointments to go shopping with his friends. We want so desperately to shake him and say, “Wake up! You have been given a golden opportunity to shine and become an example to others.”

Lanise Antoine Shelly is a powerhouse as Liz Rico and is surrounded by an impressive cast in this fast-paced, knockout punch production. I highly recommend Fernanda Coppel’s King Liz, directed with real style and exciting action and catharsis by Chuck Smith.

King Liz is being performed at Windy City Playhouse. For tickets visit www.WindyCityPlayhouse.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 22 January 2016 16:32

Review: Sunset Baby at Timeline Theatre

What drew me to this play is the powerful message around civil rights and the negative impact it had on the children of activist. Sunset Baby is about a women named after Nina Simone whose parents were a part of the Black Panthers. After her mother passes away, her father comes back into her life after what seems to have been a long stint in prison. playwright Dominique Morriseau, who landed the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for her previous work, Detroit '67, comes back with another fine effort Sunset Baby a story of generation gaps and healing old wounds.

 

As I walked closer to the stage at Timeline Theater, I saw large signs of many individuals who have contributed to the civil rights movement such as Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Malcolm X, Tupac Shukar, Nina Simone, and DeRay Mckesson who works with Black Lives Matter. The short descriptions of these individuals were informative and appreciated and also helped set the tone for this play.

 

The plays opens up with Nina, played by Anji White, getting ready to go hustle and make some money with her boyfriend, Damon (Kelvin Roston Jr.). As she is getting ready, she gets a buzz from downstairs thinking it was him but it is instead her estranged father Kenyatta (Phillip Edward Van Lear). Nina blames her father for the addictions her mother had which ultimately led to her death. What is uncovered through this encounter is Kenyatta's desire to locate unsent letters from Nina's mother, Ashanti X, while in prison. 

 

Although the play had a lot of ups and downs to keep the audience busy, I still left wanting more. There could have been more about the political activism around Kenyatta. I believe more details should have been explored a bit more as well as character development. The acting itself was very strong. Phillip Edward Van Lear's demeanor throughout the play was calm as Kenyatta but when he talked about his experiences, he did a great job of appearing physically agitated, making his role even more believable.

 

Sunset Baby will be at Timeline Theater from January 21st through April 10th. Visit http://www.timelinetheatre.com/sunset_baby/ for more details on obtaining tickets to see this powerful cast. 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 03 June 2015 00:00

Review: "Stick Fly" at Windy City Playhouse

"Stick Fly" is about the Levays, a wealthy African American family, who go to their beach house for a weekend getaway. What started off as two brothers bringing their significant others to meet their parents ends with revelations of deception, racial issues, and relationship woes. 

The older brother, played by Michael Pogue, does an excellent job in his role as an arrogant plastic surgeon. He brings home his Italian girlfriend, Kimber, who is strong, independent, and aware of her own privilege. Tyrone Phillips plays the younger brother, Kent, who has definitely gone through a journey to find himself but finally settled into writing to which he shows some talent. His girlfriend, Taylor, is neurotic and comes from a lower class background although her father is a well-liked and respected anthropologist who has written several books. We later learn that he left her at a very young age and created his own family that didn't include her. 

The family invites their longtime housekeeper to the beach house for the weekend but she asks her daughter Cheryl, played by Paige Collins, to fill in for her due to her illness. What we soon find out is that Cheryl went to a top tiered high school on scholarship and she is ready to attend college soon. It is apparent that she is out of place and clearly does not fit in.  

I couldn't help but to be impressed with Phillip Edward Van Lear’s performance as Dr. Levay. He is the matriarch and does a great job at commanding the stage when he walks in. 

I appreciate the playwright's attempt at bringing a very complex storyline to the theater. I was impressed with the fact that I was able to connect to a couple of characters as they all seemed to have some sort of problem. However, I felt at the end some of the characters were not fully developed and seemed a bit disjointed. Emotions were running high and it appeared that Cheryl just gave up at the end which was a bit of a disappointment. 

"Stick Fly" is the play to see if you like dramas with some comedy. Not only does it touch on many things such as family abandonment as well as racial issues; it leaves you reflecting on some of the things you may have encountered in your own life, especially if you are African American. This play is worth checking out at Windy City Playhouse, a non-profit theater that supports local actors. To be honest, any play that opens with Stevie Wonder is good in my book. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles