Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

King Liz
City Lights Theater Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Also see Eddie's recent reviews of Hangmen and The Kite Runner

Damaris Divito and Alycia Adame
Photo by Christian Pizzirani
With Jay Z blasting through the office's speakers, Gabby serves as a cool DJ in shades while her boss, Liz, enters the office dressed in 5th Avenue glamor–also in dark shades–lip synching the rap lyrics that help her pump up for the day's money-making ventures: "As sure as I made it here, I could make it anywhere."

Declaring, "It's good to be king," Liz shoots out a series of rapid-fire, f-word-inflicted orders to her assistant, from scheduling a facial to sitting her in the wives' section for the upcoming NBA playoff games ("It's poaching season"). After all, Liz is the number one agent for the top basketball stars whose collective salaries of $900M have made her millions, and she is ready to make some more bucks today: "No one can stop me. Not even God."

City Lights Theater Company is currently presenting Fernanda Coppel's King Liz, directed by El Teatro Campesino's Kinan Valdez, in a hyped-up, explosive, and hard-hitting look at what one Black woman believes it takes to be on top in a world dominated by white men. Even with a cast that consistently scores three-pointers with their star performances, King Liz fails to deliver a total win with a story arc that feels too much aimed for high drama moments too incredible and overly done–more like those made for a TV series of multiple episodes (which according to the program, is the next step plan for Fernanda Coppel's script).

Damaris Divito kills the part of hot-shot, players' agent, Liz Rico. Divito completely scores with cocky confidence that knows no limits, big courage to undertake the toughest of assignments as if child's play, and a vicious callousness for anyone who tries to thwart her latest list of demands. That she also looks like she stepped off a current cover of Vanity Fair, Vogue, or Harper's Bazaar just makes her all the more unstoppable as she declares, "I lie; I cheat; I steal for my clients."

Liz is in the metaphorical final minutes of a near toss-up decision that her agency's board is soon to make on who will succeed the CEO, Mr. Candy, a white man who alternates between being her hard-sounding boss and her heart-encouraging friend. Ray Renati impressively plays both sides of Candy with vigor and veracity.

Candy brings to Liz what he believes will be the winning ticket for his protégé of twenty-three years to convince the board to choose her as his successor: a raw but star-talented nineteen-year-old from the projects whom he wants her to sign and convince the struggling Knicks to recruit as a sure means to their return to the top.

Davied Morales brings total credibility to the part of a Freddie Luna, who struts about already with the self-possessed demeanor of an NBA phenom but who also talks and acts with the immaturity and social graces of a boy whose key learnings in life have come from the tough, dangerous streets. For all his "number one" standing as a potential star, Freddie brings the baggage of an uncontrollable temper that flares seemingly out of nowhere, which Morales demonstrates with scary perfection on more than one occasion.

The challenge before Liz is to shape her now $20M Knicks rookie into a star who holds his anger in check while making last-minute baskets to win championships.

Into the story's projection comes Alycia Adame as Liz's ambitious, MBA-degreed office assistant who has her eyes on her boss' position. She works hard to prove her mettle by always running instead of walking, by being constantly ready to get Liz prepared for the next conquering with a fresh martini or a spray breath-freshener, and by inserting her well-researched data into Liz's thinking, even as her boss usually gives her little regard beyond a put-down.

Also appearing as a key player in the script is the Knicks' faltering Coach Jones (Fred Pitts), who probably has one last season to turn the team around before he is fired. The prospect of depending on a hot-headed kid with a conviction record is not appealing to him at all ("I am a coach, not a babysitter"). But when Liz approaches him with her hard-hitting tactics and more than a hint of their own past games played out in the bedroom, Coach Jones also takes on the Freddy project.

Making a late-game but starring appearance is Catlin Papp as the take-no-prisoners TV interviewer, Barbara Flowers, in a performance worthy of "Best Featured Actor" for the expected flair and surprise deceit she brings to a show featuring Freddy, Liz, and Coach Jones.

The issue with the playwright's script is that we invest our two hours (with one intermission) to watch a story that starts out very intriguing but later seems too interested in shocking (or titillating) us with the next surprise explosion–be it one full of shouts and pushes or one with graphic descriptions of sex-play moves and outcomes. We want to care about these people, but for the most part, they do little to win our emotional buy-in–that is, until the last-ditch, too-forced ending stemming from an event that again seems made for TV.

The overly slick design of Ron Gasparinetti's set adds to the feeling of more Netflix or ESPN than live stage show. Three screens serve as backdrops that are often filled with swirling, three-dimensional graphics of lights that mimic the LED-borders outlining the stage's three sections; those projections become annoying during pre-show, intermission, and scene changes. What does work exceptionally well for the character development of everyone from teen Freddy to King Liz are the meticulously designed costumes by Briana Lisette Cardenas.

While many kudos go to the performances of all cast members, the final result of City Lights Theater Company's King Liz is at best a tie game with no clear winner.

King Liz runs through April 21, 2024, at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. 2nd Street, San Jose CA. For tickets and information, please visit