King Liz: The title seems designed to spark questions. Wouldn’t Liz be a queen rather than a king? And who is this Liz that she deserves the honorific at all?
Similarly, the play, by Fernanda Coppel, defies easy and pat definition. It starts out like a musical, with star sports agent Liz Rico (the fantastic Sabrina Sloan) performing an opening number. But after that, although music often plays in the background, no other songs are performed live. It’s an indictment of professional sports, but more immediately a personal story of what happens to those whose moral compass’ magnetic north points to money and power.
Liz’s assistant Gabby Fuentes (the charismatic Michelle Ortiz) anticipates her boss’ every need, despite toiling without appreciation or appropriate compensation for seven years. Gabby is on high alert when agency owner Mr. Candy (Ray Abruzzo) approaches, prepping Liz and following up. Liz was Mr. Candy’s assistant for a decade before moving up the corporate ladder.
The boss sends Liz to sign a star high school basketball player, the 19-year-old Freddie Luna (the immensely talented Evan Morris Reiser). He promises that if she successfully guides the kid to be an early draft pick, he’ll install her as Candy Agency CEO at his impending retirement.
Freddie’s a hothead with a juvenile record, but those records are sealed and Liz gives him a good talking to, so what could go wrong on Liz’s path to their mutually ensured success? Answers come in part from story elements that feature Freddie’s coach (a warm and complex Oscar Best) and hard-hitting TV personality Barbara Flowers (the perfectly cast Nancy Linari).
The rest of the play answers that question in ways that mirror the title: a dash of the unexpected that keeps things off kilter. It’s beautifully acted. Direction, by Jesca Prudencio, gilds the lily with music, sound effects and flashing projections that sometimes detract from the compelling and multi-layered story.
Coppel first wrote King Liz in 2015 and has updated its NBA player and other references for this run.
King Liz runs through August 14 at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse. Show times are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are $39-129. Running time two hours and fifteen minutes, including an intermission.