In Sarah Burgess’s Kings, now playing at The Public Theatre, Kate (Gillian Jacobs) and Lauren (Aya Cash) know how the political game is played. They are political babies in the know of how lobbyists use money for campaign contributions; for career politicians to get them to vote for their clientele’s best interest, the public be damned. Be it Disneyland or a ski vacation, they go to these political fundraisers to pitch their clients wants.
Enter newly elected Representative, Sydney Millsap (Eisa Davis), whose husband has died in the war, making her a gold-star widow. She takes full responsibility representing the people of Texas, despite the fact that nobody else does. She sees how the same statements come out of everyone’s mouth and she will accept donations to her re-election campaign, but that does not buy her vote. She has heard countless times the statement of “the first woman and the first person of color ever to represent your district”, that she is sick of it. She will not take meetings and sees through the bullshit to the truth. She hates the countless rounds of dinners, gala’s, phone calls, canopies of salmon, and lies. She has a moral standard, which is rare these days. If the bill does not help the people of Texas, then she will not vote on it, or in this case, will.
Everyone in Washington takes her as green. Lauren wants Sydney to take a meeting with her podiatrist client, despite the fact that it only benefits the client and not the American people. When Sydney refuses, Lauren spits back, which is appreciated as real by the politician. When a vote for a bill that will hurt the 10% comes to play, Kate tries to get Sydney to vote no and help Sen. John McDowell (Zach Grenier) who she has a long history with. Kate has a vested interest as for every year he stays in politics she gets $100,000.00. This seems like a non-ending, money-making, cash cow as McDowell is the leading candidate for President. When Kate can not persuade Sydney, McDowell threatens her re-election, to which Sydney responds to by running for his seat as senator and winning with the truth.
Lauren plays both sides, seeing that Sydney is exposing the corruption but knowing that the 10% will never stand for this and will crush Sydney, which they do.
Kings shines the light on all that is wrong in American politics – but hold up a little hope. I found this play truthful and extremely sad.
The cast is all wonderful and works as an ensemble, thanks to director Thomas Kail (Hamilton) who keeps this play moving like a well-oiled machine. Smartly, he puts the audience on each side of the playing field. It’s as if he is shining a mirror up to us and saying, “don’t you see, don’t you get how we are being played and more importantly why aren’t you getting into this fight for our humanity?”
Anna Louizos leaves the set sterile and Jason Lyones leaves the lighting stark as if to expose the truths behind all those glamorous events. Paul Tazewell’s costumes work well, as the extremely groomed positions always look letter-perfect, hiding their flaws behind smart suits.
Sarah Burgess’s Kings is smart, raw, and painful in what it is saying. Her dialogue cuts to the bone.
The system is rigged against Sydney; against us. The money that is spent on campaigns is staggering, but does nobody see that we should be using that money on the poor, the sick, and getting our country on track? This is the root of where we have de-railed and until this sinks in, we don’t stand a chance.
Kings: The Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette St. until April 1st.