Review: ‘Kings’ at Studio Theatre

Kings at Studio Theatre is both entertaining and thought-provoking in every sense. Beautifully acted and directed, it reminds us that politicians, even though it may be hard to believe at times, are indeed human beings just like the rest of us. In a year when women, especially African-American women, have played starring roles in American politics, it is a welcome occurrence.

Elliott Bales and Nehassaiu deGannes in Kings. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

The play premiered at New York’s Public Theater in February of 2018, but it is particularly suited to today’s DC audience. Playwright Sarah Burgess, an Alexandria native, has a knack for wittily summarizing the most off-putting aspects of public discourse. Director Marti Lyons is to be congratulated for this timely and winning production.

Our heroine is Representative Sydney Millsap (Nehassaiu deGannes), a straight shooter from Texas who has just achieved a surprise win in a special election. She is an African-American war widow and the mother of an adult son. They are a Gold Star family. It is apparent from the beginning that Sydney is playing a very different game from that of lobbyists Kate (Kelly McCrann) and Lauren (Laura C. Harris), or the sitting Senator, John McDowell (Elliott Bales).

The first scene takes place on a weekend in Vail, where lobbyists and politicians are meant to mingle and strategize. Kelly McCrann’s Kate is promoting a bill which will supposedly alleviate the opioid crisis by requiring those with foot injuries who request, say, oxycodone, to see a podiatrist first. Her client is, of course, the head of a podiatrists’ association.

Sydney, from the outset, is having none of it. Her fierce concentration and incisive questions unsettle Kate, and the two women end up disliking each other. As Sydney, deGannes has a warrior’s intensity combined with the inner isolation of a survivor of traumatic loss. Kate (Kelly McCrann) knows her job but is beginning to be unsure whether she really likes it at all.

Laura C. Harris and Kelly McCrann in Kings. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Laura C. Harris as Lauren has a brightly polished surface and a manner which suggests that if she makes even one mistake, she will fall to pieces. She and Kate used to date. Both actresses turn in subtle, emotionally honest performances, which make their scenes eminently watchable. Elliott Bales as Senator John McDowell is a perfect foil to Sydney’s Congresswoman—an expansive, initially somewhat likable Texan.

One highlight is a debate between Rep. Millsap and Senator McDowell, which resonates with all the debates we have ever watched and wondered about. Sydney’s succinct analysis of the sorry state of American politics offers a noteworthy commentary on what might happen today, or possibly tomorrow.

The stylishly spare set is by Scenic Designer Luciana Steconni. Costumes (Sarah Cubbage) are impeccable, from the ski vests to the tailored dresses worn by Rep. Millsap. Lighting Designer is Jiyoun Chang; Sound Designer is Stowe Nelson.

Don’t miss Kings: It is an engaging, stingingly accurate view of the process of government.

Running Time: One hour 45 minutes, with no intermission.

[Read John Stoltenberg’s Magic Time! column about Kings.]

Kings plays through January 13, 2019, at Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300 or go online.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She is a playwright and director. An early draft of her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied English at Barnard, and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time Real Estate Editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

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