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Review Roundup: Thomas Kail-Helmed KINGS at the Public Theater

Review Roundup: Thomas Kail-Helmed KINGS at the Public Theater

The Public Theater presents the world premiere of Kings, written by Sarah Burgess and directed by Thomas Kail. Part of The Public's Astor Anniversary Season at their landmark downtown home on Lafayette Street, celebrating 50 years of new work at 425 Lafayette Street and the 50th Anniversary of HAIR, Kings officially opened last night, February 20 and will now run an additional week through Sunday, April 1.

The complete cast of Kings features Aya Cash (Lauren), Eisa Davis(Representative Sydney Millsap), Zach Grenier (Senator John McDowell), Gillian Jacobs (Kate), and Rachel Leslie (Understudy for Kate, Lauren, and Rep. Sydney Millsap).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: For all the post-2016 idealists rushing to run for office on a platform of changing the system, I have two words of caution: Sydney Millsap. Sydney is a political neophyte, hoping to break the stranglehold of entrenched interests that's choking democracy and enabling the kleptocrats. But unlike you, she's fictional, and fabulous: a stunning black tax nerd and Gold-Star widow from Texas who's as familiar with the carried interest loophole as with the history of the sizzling fajita at Chili's.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: The actors do as well as possible with the familiar-feeling material, with Davis coming across strongest as the neophyte congresswoman who discovers her principles will only take her so far. The direction by Thomas Kail (Hamilton), which echoes that of his similar staging of Dry Powder, proves more distracting than necessary, with the audience seated on both sides of the auditorium for no discernible reason and the scenery mainly consisting of ever-shifting chairs and tables that sometimes revolve - as if the actors were performing on Lazy Susans. Like those fajitas, the theatrical busy-ness only serves to highlight the insubstantiality of the drama it's intended to enhance.

Roma Torre, NY1: Playwright Sarah Burgess has proven herself highly adept at turning the driest details into the stuff of high drama. Her last play took on the unlikely topic of private equity, and it was riveting, believe it or not. In her latest, "Kings," she dives into the weeds of Washington lobbying, and once again impressively exposes the devil in the details. The devil in this case is political corruption. Burgess shows how lobbyists, through their clients, control the purse strings of special interest money. And there's a lot of it.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: What makes us think that a play like Sarah Burgess's Kings - now at the Public under the direction of Thomas "I directed Hamilton, maybe you've heard of it" Kail - is necessary? Is it the aggressive literal focus on contemporary politics? Is it the ultraspecialized milieu - here, the slick, scummy world of Washington lobbyists? Is it the researched-to-death dialogue about obscure but important policy points, designed to make liberal audiences feel both complacent ("Haha, yes, the country is fucked! I agree!") and a little guilty ("Gosh, I should really be better informed about carried interest ... I'll do that tomorrow")? Is it Oskar Eustis's gushing artistic director note in the program, crediting Burgess with revealing "truths about the systems that shape our entire lives" and drawing our attention to the fact that the recent tax bill passed by Congress - which again preserved the carried-interest loophole - renders the Public's production "so relevant"? Whatever it is, I'm tired of it in my very bones.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Four good actors sink their teeth into juicy roles in Sarah Burgess' "Kings," a smart but familiar story about the unappetizing impact of money on politics. But for all of the actors' fine efforts at The Public Theater, where the play runs through April 1, they're nearly upstaged by a prop - a sense-tickling skillet of fajitas. Truly.

Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: The play's strength is its relentless questioning of every character. Kate and Lauren are not principle-free; they merely see their jobs as jobs. They are morally desiccated only in that they are commercial parasites living on the hog of the body politic. The tension of part of the play-will Kate cross the Rubicon and join Millsap in her political life?-feels not-so-cliffhanger a decision. Of course she won't.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Mrs. Smith goes to Washington in Sarah Burgess' new play, "Kings," which opened Tuesday at The Public Theater. Rep. Sydney Millsap (Elsa Davis, "House of Cards") is as high-minded as James Stewart's senator but much tougher. The joke of Frank Capra's 1939 classic movie is that, while Stewart's character meant well, he's essentially incompetent, and that the government's in better hands with the corrupt politicians, who are, at least, smart.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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