Theatre

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

Rehearsals are underway for Fernanda Coppel’s “King Liz,” Windy City Playhouse’s second show of the 2017 season, playing May 24 through July 16. Under the direction of Chuck Smith, the “fierce and compelling” (The New York Times) production stars Lanise Shelley as Liz Rico, a powerful NBA sports agent vying for a promotion to head her entire company. When Freddie Luna (played by Eric Gerard), a young, talented rookie, comes under her wing, Liz faces the biggest challenge of her career: trust her gut with the new player, or risk everything she’s built for herself. The cast of “King Liz” also features Philip Edward Van Lear as Coach Jones, Jackie Alamillo as Gabby Fuentes, Caron Buinis as Barbara Flowers and Frank Nall as Mr. Candy.

Performances for “King Liz” begin May 24 and run through July 16. Press Nights for the production are Wednesday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($15-$55) are on sale now and can be purchased at the Windy City Playhouse Box Office online or by calling the Box Office at (773) 891-8985.

“I was very drawn to the major themes in this production, especially focusing on Liz as an independent, self-reliant woman of color in a male-dominated field. It's not often that you get to see such a strong female character on stage, who owes no one anything,” said Windy City Playhouse Artistic Director Amy Rubenstein. “We’ve curated programming featuring the talented artists in the production to help our audiences connect with the material on a deeper level, while embracing the casual, fun atmosphere the Playhouse is known for.”

In conjunction with “King Liz,” Windy City Playhouse’s Talkback series offers patrons an intimate Q&A experience with an array of artists to learn more about the creative process behind each production. The series begins with “King Liz” playwright Fernanda Coppel, who will lead the discussion behind her inspiration for the play on Saturday, May 27 immediately following the 8 p.m. performance.   

Also new, the Playhouse begins the weekly post-performance Nightcap series, inviting patrons to grab a drink at the bar and partake in an intimate discussion around “King Liz” with a member of the cast or creative team. To kick off the series, cast member Caron Buinis will lead the discussion on Wednesday, June 7 and Philip Edward Van Lear will lead the discussion on Wednesday, June 14. The series takes place every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. through the duration of the run. For the complete schedule of special events at the Playhouse, visit WindyCityPlayhouse.com/King-Liz.

No experience at the Playhouse is complete without a trip to their signature bar, and “King Liz” is no different. The production-specific cocktails, available throughout the run, include:
·         Operation: Pump Up - Pimm’s, Sprite, Muddled Cucumber, Lemon
·         Very Cocky Chick - Amaretto, Luxardo Cherry Liquor, Sprite, Sweet and Sour, Grenadine
·         Dynamic Dunker - Bourbon, Ginger Liqueur, Hard Cider, Lime
·         Diamond in the Rough - Mezcal, Simple Syrup, Lime, Ginger Beer
·         Summer in a Glass (The Playhouse’s Signature Sangria) - Rosé, Vodka, Lemon, Strawberries, Sprite

“Wine Wednesdays” are returning to the Playhouse for “King Liz,” which includes $10 off all bottles of wine at the bar. For the complete beer, wine and cocktail menu, click here.

The performance schedule for “King Liz” is as follows: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. For a detailed performance schedule visit WindyCityPlayhouse.com/King-Liz. Tickets for “King Liz” are on sale now and range from $15-$55—with discounts available for seniors and students—and can be purchased by calling 773-891-8985 or visiting WindyCityPlayhouse.com.

The creative team for “King Liz” includes Courtney O’Neill (Scenic Design), Elsa Hiltner (Costume Design), Jared Gooding (Lighting Design), Thomas Dixon (Sound Design) and Devon Green (Properties Design). Donald E. Claxon is the Production Stage Manager. The understudies for the production are Brianna Buckley, Joe Chazaray, David Goodloe, Will Casey, Marisol Doblado and Teri Schnaubelt.

About Windy City Playhouse
Windy City Playhouse, Chicago's most sophisticated not-for-profit Equity theater, aims to expand beyond the traditional theatergoing experience by offering audience members a night of high-quality entertainment with a full-service bar, in a lounge-like atmosphere. Windy City Playhouse premiered in March of 2015, with the inaugural production “End Days.” Lauded by audiences and critics alike, Windy City Playhouse promises to rock Chicago's theater scene.

The season continues at Windy City Playhouse with Gina Gionfriddo’s dark comedy, “Becky Shaw” directed by Jeff Award-winner Scott Weinstein. Performances begin September 21.

For more information, visit WindyCityPlayhouse.com and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

 

 

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