Theater, Comedy
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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Theater review by Helen Shaw 

Sarah Burgess is interested in stories about procedure, particularly the tricky details that too many of us ignore. Her 2016 play Dry Powder portrayed dastardly deeds at a private equity firm; in Kings she looks at money and politics. Straight-shootin’ freshman Texas Representative Sydney (Eisa Davis) butts heads with two lobbyists: One, Kate (an uncertain Gillian Jacobs), is whiny and a bit self-hating; the other, Lauren (Aya Cash), is better at her job—which in this case means more viperish and shod in a spikier pump. Neither is an adequate foil for Sydney, but she eventually goes toe to toe with her state senator (Zach Grenier), whose unctuousness casts her directness into flattering relief. Teaching through illustration is a valid theatrical strategy, but Burgess omits other crucial dramatic ingredients, such as character and incident; and since the purpose of this all-exposition play is to inform, your interest fluctuates based on how much you’re learning at any given moment. (Do you know how much of her day a congressperson spends raising money? How much have you thought about the carried-interest loophole?)

Burgess wants to show that the true villain of her piece isn’t red or blue—it’s green. The punishing schedule of fundraising—coupled with both sides’ reliance on (and sometimes friendship with) lobbyists—leaves little room for principled governance. Since we already know that, Kings winds up being informative but not revealing or persuading. Burgess writes best when Sydney rattles the senator’s comfortable cage, but even as delivered by the magnificent Davis, her stump speech sounds like reheated leftovers from The West Wing. And when Burgess writes for Kate, the lobbyist Faust waking to the hollowness of her bargain, her material goes dry as dust. Director Thomas Kail seems desperate to juice up the evening; there’s an unnecessary turntable, and the transitions are full of pulsing music and flashing lights. The production begs: “Please be entertained!” Outside, real-life politics is throwing a circus. Inside, the motion doesn’t carry. 

Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Sarah Burgess. Directed by Thomas Kail. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

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By: Helen Shaw



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