Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
By Naima Dawson
Women bring an inimitable work ethic and balance to the universe that often goes unrecognized. The core of a woman’s strength is nestled in her ability exude perseverance in the midst of opposition. Women in power rarely are privy to traveling the path of least resistance in their climb to success.
Fernanda Coppel’s KING LIZ is like Arliss, Jerry Maguire, and The Devil Wears Prada coming together to have a baby. The play is packed tight with an abundance of familiar themes and stereotropes. However, under the direction of Chuck Smith, the Windy City Playhouse cast efficaciously uncoils all these prescribed additives to give the audience an entertaining dramedy.
Liz (Lanise Shelley) is a successful sports agent who just happens to be a Black woman in an industry that is dominated by White men. She is a fiery agent who gets what she wants at any cost. In fact, she is so confident in her skills that she appoints herself as KING LIZ. She absorbs these suffocating masculine attributes to sustain as a respected agent among her male counterparts, but this ironically makes her cold and detached.
The script seems to call for Shelly to be this overly aggressive loud Black woman. This unmarried, no children, career-driven woman has become typecast as the Black woman’s archenemy. We loath the idea that our choice for success renders us to this dark abyss of isolation, while our male counterparts enjoy frolicking and enjoying the prime of life. Shelley shines best when her character is subtle and vulnerable, displaying a broad range of innocence and pulling the audience further into her character.
There is no question that Liz is the leading closer at the Candy Sports agency and she is Mr. Candy’s (Frank Nall) personal choice in becoming his successor as CEO. Mr. Candy suggests that her fate strongly rests in his desire for her to sign a young basketball prodigy, Freddie Luna (Eric Gerard). Nall simply nails this role with his quick wit and solid performance.
Liz and Freddie Luna both share a common thread that transcends far beyond their similar upbringing. Garnished with a checkered past and a list of demands, including his desire to be signed to his dream team headed by the infamous Coach Jones (Philip Edward Van Lear). Van Lear, who I simply find fascinating to watch, brings such believability to his characters. He has a unique performance cadence that keeps the audience locked into the story.
Liz takes on the challenge with the help of her assistant Gabby Fuentes (Jackie Alamillo) and signs Freddie, despite her better judgment. Eric Gerard really shines as Freddie. He beams charisma and his range of emotions and timely comedy reveal Freddie Luna’s youth and struggle to find his own way. Alamillo brings a perfect balance of required comic relief.
King Liz’s thirst for power might just cost her that invisible crown she totes. It seems everyone in her castle wants something from her and she wants something from them. Who will really pay the royal cost? KING LIZ reminds us that “people only love you when you have something they want.” While some crowns merely tip, others fall and shatter.
Go see KING LIZ; it is a perfect way to relax in luxury this summer at one of Chicago’s premiere intimate theater houses, Windy City Playhouse.