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BWW Reviews: Sports Agent Drama KING LIZ is Sharp and Snazzy

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Apparently, the title character of Fernanda Coppel's snazzy new drama King Liz begins every work day by rapping a full-out performance of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy," ending with a mic drop that her assistant catches inches from the floor.

Russel G Jones and Karen Pittman (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

It's a bit far-fetched, but perhaps a perfect example of the soundtrack permeating the brain of elite sports agent Liz Rico as she pumps herself up for the challenges of the day. Appropriately, that soundtrack's voice is male, given that as a black woman on the business end of America's sports obsessions, she plays her game with what many would call male characteristics.

Karen Pittman struts and fast-talks with appealing star quality as Rico, even when the character isn't especially likeable. She's quite hard on her overqualified assistant of five years, Gabby (terrific Irene Sofia Lucio), even when she's continually two or three steps ahead of her boss' needs.

Gradually, Pittman and Coppel give us peaks at the dedication behind Rico's protective armor, addressing the issue of whether or not her some would find her deceptive and self-serving career moves more acceptable from a male.

Currently her agency's exclusive rep for NBA stars, Rico is promised by her patronizing, close-to-retiring boss (Michael Cullen) that she can become his heir apparent by signing and successfully managing the career of a 19-year-old high school basketball phenom from Red Hook, Freddie Luna (Jeremie Harris).

Karen Pittman, Irene Sofia Lucio and
Jeremie Harris (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The play gives us a cool insider look at how Rico proves to the young man that she is the best choice to bring him optimal monetary rewards and charms various team owners until Luna is selected as the first round draft pick of the Knicks.

The playwright ambitiously approaches a lot of interesting issues, but there doesn't seem to be enough time to deal fully with each one. Like so many young athletes, Luna is unprepared for sudden wealth and national celebrity, especially since he has a juvenile criminal record. (The evening's biggest misstep is that a climatic television interview intended to clear the air about the young man's past is played for laughs, with Caroline Lagerfelt doing a broad spoof of Barbara Walters.) Gabby has to choose between loyalty to her mentor and her own career options. A scene revealing that Rico has a casual sexual relationship with the Knicks' coach (Russell G. Jones) suddenly throws in her thoughts on whether or not she can have a satisfying career while being a wife and mother.

The result leans toward soap opera but Coppel's writing is sharp and director Lisa Peterson's muscular production keeps the tension at a high level. As sports-related plays go, this is one of the better ones we've seen in recent seasons.

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