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BWW Review: Studio Theatre's KINGS A Thrilling Earful of Political Intrigue

Studio Theatre's KINGS & Radio Drama Take DC By Storm

BWW Review:  Studio Theatre's KINGS A Thrilling Earful of Political Intrigue

For sheer claustrophobia, let's admit, nothing compares to our current virus-related confinement. But for all the hassles of the stay-at-home, grab-and-go grind, let us still give thanks. Because for all of our trials, at least we are not denizens of the most tightly-wound, back-stabbingly claustrophobic realms in the known world: that patch of infernal turf which runs from Congress to K Street and back.

Necessity being the mother of ingenuity, Studio Theatre has made a move into the genre of radio drama, and its first efforts are as seamlessly done as if they'd been born for radio. With their first audio effort, Kings, Studio demonstrates the versatility of Studio's roster of actors and sound designers. Director Marti Lyons, already a Helen Hayes award winner, establishes her chops in a purely audio medium, and demonstrates the theatre community's ability to turn on a dime and produce a classic form of entertainment as if they were to the manner born. Stuff like this is truly heartening.

Sarah Burgess, show-runner for the upcoming American Crime Story series devoted to the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal, seems perfectly steeped in that uniquely Washingtonian netherworld of backroom deals, revolving doors, and the occasional vain effort to clean up the mess. The second play in a projected trilogy, Kings focuses on the rise and fall of Rep. Sydney Millsap (the whip-smart Gina Daniels), a freshman congressperson from Dallas, Texas, whose knowledge of financial skullduggery makes her instantly suspicious of the lobbyists who flock to her at a "retreat" in Vail, Colorado.

At Vail, Millsap is accosted by Kate (the sharp-as-knives Kelly McCrann), one of the slickest operators in the lobbying set, peddling riders with a finesse one might see at any casino table. For all her polish, Millsap sees through Kate in an instant, and their confrontation finally forces Kate to a moment of honesty that is as telling as it is unsettling.

The world of Washington has yet to swallow Millsap whole, however, and in her independence of mind it becomes clear she will not let short-term convenience and pathetic euphemisms keep her from fixing the tax code in a big way. (Burgess manages to convince you, by the way, that even the most arcane corner of the tax code is vitally important and easily understood-a herculean task but one she accomplishes with ease). Needless to say, before too long Millsap calls on Kate to aid her in a seemingly quixotic quest to unseat the senior senator from Texas, John McDowell (the always-resourceful Rick Foucheux).

The roller-coaster ride of the campaign that ensues involves some judgment calls which compromises Kate's good friend and fellow lobbyist, Lauren (Laura C. Harris, rock solid in her entitled position, and furious when her privilege is exposed). There is also an inevitable friction of a truly Washingtonian kind-owning pricey real estate in Old Town Alexandria (Burgess' old stomping brounds) and placement on the cover of Washingtonian magazine figures in this as well).

If there is a tragic figure here it is the Senator-Foucheux gives us a gruff, old-school politician who has mastered the crooked legislative system, only to be tossed out by the voters at the height of his mastery. There is a touching moment where he expresses admiration for a son, whose aspirations to become a poet are viciously mocked by Kate and Lauren, but which Burgess positions as a calling to be marveled at.

What makes this recording really sing, beyond the stellar acting and brisk pace, is Mikhail Feksel's subtle soundscaping. There are so many aspects of sound design that a live audience can take for granted; the marker of excellence is often, ironically, the sound's inaudibility; it meshes so seamlessly with the visual environment that it's easily missed. So it is a supreme test of a designer's skill to pull off the same feat in a purely aural medium.

Feksel is able to create the ambiance of a wide variety of venues, from cozy hotel lobbies in winter to grand political debate stages, but he does it to foreground the acting talent. Without any visuals to distract us, it is Feksel's task here is to suggest the visions that dance in our heads as we listen to Burgess' flawless dialogue. The "jump-cuts" from Washington to Texas and back are easily done, in an instant, with a little percussion as well.

"Kings" is one month into its run on the Studio Theatre website; it's a brilliant portrait of the part of town we love to hate, smoothly produced and well worth the sit-down.

Production Photo:

Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes with Introduction/Preamble by Mr. Muse.

Performances of Kings, will be available online through December, at:

https://www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/2020-2021-kings/listen

For more information about Studio Theatre's online programming, and to make a donation, visit:

https://www.studiotheatre.org/




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From This Author Andrew White