by: Michael Bracken
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Tell that to sports agent Liz Rico (Karen Pittman). She’s hard as nails, but hardly uneasy, at least not in the early stretches of King Liz, at Second Stage Uptown. A woman in a man’s world, she needs to show she’s at least as tough as the boys if she’s going to stay on her game. And her game includes a client roster that has earned $900 million dollars over the last three years.
A black woman in her forties, Liz never lets her guard down. She’s a mean mother, make no bones about it. If you’re looking for a smile, you’re in the wrong place. And if you’re looking for a song, get to her office early, ‘cause she starts her day lip-synching Notorious BIG’s “Juicy,” played at full volume.
In fact, everything Liz does is played at full volume. Why talk when you can shout? Shouting’s so much more intimidating. And Liz is nothing if not intimidating.
Still, there’s a credibility gap with Liz. Her bravado amuses, but it’s hard to take her seriously. She’s so over the top we can’t really empathize with her, even when she changes her stripes near the play’s end.
Then there’s Liz’s sidekick, Gabby (Irene Sofia Lucio). An MBA who’s been working as Liz’s secretary for five years, she’s a dork. She dresses like a dork; she moves like a dork; and she talks like a dork. She’s a dork squared, at least for most of the play. Like her boss, she’s trapped in one dimension.
Television host Barbara Flowers (Caroline Lagerfelt) at least has a reason to stick to a single note. She’s a gesticulating TV interviewer brimming with sympathy and compassion as she spins her web to entrap hot-tempered basketball wonder Freddie Luna (Jeremie Harris). But even with her rationale for overkill, she’s far more exaggerated than is called for, even if she’s going for laughs, which she diminishes by playing so broad.
Interestingly enough, Harris, as Freddie, who has a bona fide anger management problem of epic proportions, plays restrained. He hits the right notes, but they get drowned out by the noise that surrounds him. Still, he is a person: self-centered, spoiled, combustible, immature, loving. No other character is as genuine.
Freddie is also the play’s catalyst. Liz, who signed him shortly before the NBA Draft, convinces the Knicks (his first choice) to pick him despite his shady past, which includes time spent in a juvenile detention facility for an extremely violent crime he says he didn’t commit.
In his first post-game press conference, he is showered by questions about his rap sheet rather than his sterling performance on the court. He loses his temper and shoves his coach (Russell G. Jones) to the floor. His career starts to spiral downhill. Liz uncharacteristically tries to help him, neglecting her other clients in the process. Even after she cuts him from her roster at the insistence of her boss (Michael Cullen), she can’t let go emotionally. Client and agent topple together.
If Fernanda Coppel’s writing is somewhat overblown, director Lisa Peterson does nothing to rein it in. Rather, she seems to encourage the definition of characters by a single trait and has her actors hammer that trait into the ground. The cast is competent, but no one really rises above the material.
Dane Laffrey’s set is clever, with hallways on either side and translucent glass in the rear, allowing us to see actors as they prepare to enter. Peterson has them stop downstage at the sides and primp, a deft flourish.
Does Liz achieve redemption at play’s end when she’s lost everything and is about to start over again? Beats me. But she has no regrets. “I just plain forgot to have children and a husband. I didn’t mind it at all.”
Through August 8th. McGinn/Cazale Theatre (Broadway & 76th Street, 3rd floor). www.2ST.com. 2 hours including intermission.