Review: King Liz (Windy City Playhouse)

| June 20, 2017

Eric Gerard and Lanise Antoine Shelley star as Freddie and Liz in King Liz, Windy City           


King Liz

Written by Fernanda Coppel
Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving (map)
thru July 16  |  tix: $15-$55  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Despite talented director and cast, ‘King’ fizzles more than scores


Lanise Antoine Shelley stars as Liz Rico in King Liz, Windy City PlayhouseEric Gerard stars as Freddie Luna in King Liz, Windy City PlayhouseJackie Alamillo stars as Gabby Fuentes in King Liz, Windy City Playhouse

Windy City Playhouse presents
King Liz

Review by Catey Sullivan

Hobbled by cliches and a plot that hinges on people doing things that defy credibility, Fernanda Coppel’s basketball-infused King Liz fouls out early on. Not even director Chuck Smith’s formidable talent can make a winner of Coppel’s story of a superstar sports agent and a rookie basketball player with superstar potential.

Eric Gerard stars as Freddie Luna in King Liz at Windy City PlayhouseThe show is in trouble before the first quarter is through. In telling the tale of Liz Rico (Lanise Antoine Shelley) and Freddie Luna (Eric Gerard), Coppel’s dialogue veers between Mamet-lite and the hackneyed drivel of those “inspirational” posters that you can often find hanging in the break rooms of corporate cubicle warrens. The plot, meanwhile, depends on Liz and Freddie behaving in ways that both contradict who they are supposed to be as characters and that are about as likely as making seven dozen consecutive free-throws.

Early on in King Liz you’ll have to ask yourself: Would a teenage kid from a poor family turn down a $20 million endorsement in order to stay with an agent who literally offers nothing in the way of monetary compensation? In King Liz, the answer is – preposterously – yes. Never mind that supposed basketball phenom Freddie Luna desperately wants to take care of his impoverished family. Or that agent Liz Rico doesn’t offer Freddie anything beyond a word salad of motivational tripe. Freddie turns down the $20 million sneaker deal and goes with the salad.

The scene is one of many that only happen because there would be no play if they did not. Here are a few more: While watching the NBA draft on television, Liz keeps turning the set off at crucial moments. She does the same thing during Freddie’s first pro basketball game. The draft and the game are the two most important events in Liz’s entire professional life. Coppel would have us believe that Liz purposefully shuts them off because…Well, because they get in the way of the dialogue Liz needs to spout.

Eric Gerard and Lanise Antoine Shelley star as Freddie and Liz in King Liz, Windy City Jackie Alamillo and Lanise Antoine Shelley star as Gabby and Liz in King Liz, Windy City PlayhouseEric Gerard, Jackie Alamillo and Lanise Antoine Shelley star in King Liz

As characters go, Liz Rico embodies one of the biggest cliches of drama and literature: Beneath her tough-talking, hard-as-nails exterior, there beats a sensitive heart of gold. Diamond-in-the-rough basketball superstar Freddie Luna also treads into the land of cliché, but that’s not the character’s biggest problem. The way Liz describes him, Freddie Luna is a Wilt Chamberlain/Michael Jordan in the making. That’s tough to envision here, because Freddie Luna appears to be a hair shorter than his agent. Freddie looks barely tall enough to model, let alone become an NBA superstar.

Body types shouldn’t generally matter when it comes to acting, but if you’re specifically casting a basketball prodigy who is supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, you need somebody with stature to make it plausible. Gerard does an adequate job portraying Freddie, but he’s miscast.

It doesn’t help that Freddie delivers precisely one good play over the course of the production (which Liz does manage to catch, even though she keeps turning the TV off so she can talk). Based on his high school stats and that one shot, Liz decides to risk her entire career on Freddie. And that brings us back to the ridiculousness of the plot. Would a super-agent like Liz risk losing absolutely everything by betting on a shortish kid with no track record and proven anger management issues? No, she wouldn’t. Not unless the plot required her to do so, which it does and which renders King Liz far more artifice than art.

Frank Nall and Lanise Antoine Shelley star as Mr. Candy and Liz Rico in King LizLanise Antoine Shelley, Jackie Alamillo and Eric Gerard star in King Liz

As is telegraphed from Freddie’s first scene, his temper gets him in trouble. Freddie’s first press conference goes about as well as you’d expect, sending Liz into damage control mode. This is where yet another dubious plot point springs up. Liz gets Freddie a TV interview, an appearance she says will totally fix his reputation as an out-of-control criminal hothead. Don’t worry, Liz tells Freddie, she can control the interviewer, the questions and everything else about he television appearance.

Nobody with Liz’s supposed experience in the field would honestly believe they could exert such control over a nationally televised interview. Only someone who is either delusional or hopelessly naïve would claim that they could. Liz is neither – or so we’ve been repeatedly told. As is the case throughout King Liz, what we’re told about the characters doesn’t match up with what they actually do. Liz doesn’t act like a super-agent anymore than Freddie acts like a super-talented ball player.

It’s tough to fault Smith’s cast, given the difficulty of the material they’re working with. As Liz, Shelley fluently spews tough love and salty language. Gerard is believable as a young man with short fuse, if not so much as a super-talented athlete. As Freddie’s coach, Phillip Edward Van Lear is appropriately authoritative. As television host Barbara Flowers, Caron Buinis serves up a cross between Nancy Grace and a cut-rate Barbara Walters. Liz’s boss Mr. Candy (Frank Nall) never really registers, but that’s a script problem, not an actor problem. Finally, there’s Liz’s ambitious assistant Gabby. Jackie Alamillo reads a shade too young for the part – she’s more sorority sister than ruthless competitor.

For King Liz to work, Coppel need to up her game. The drama fizzles more than it scores.

Rating: ★★

King Liz continues through July 16th at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park (map), with performances Wednesdays & Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $15-$55, and are available by phone (773-891-8985) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Caron Buinis, Eric Gerard, Frank Nall, Lanise Antoine Shelley, Phillip Edward Van Lear, Jackie Alamillo

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Lanise Antoine Shelley (Liz Rico), Eric Gerard (Freddie Luna), Phillip Edward Van Lear (Coach Jones), Frank Nall (Mr. Candy), Jackie Alamillo (Gabby Fuentes), Caron Buinis (Barbara Flowers), Brianna Buckley (u/s Liz Rico), Joe Chazaray (u/a Freddy Luna), David Goodloe (u/s Coach Jones), Marisol Doblado (u/s Gabby), Will Casey (u/s Mr. Candy), Teri Schnaubelt (u/s Barbara Flowers).

behind the scenes

Chuck Smith (director), Courtney O’Neill (set design), Elsa Hiltner (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), Devon Green (props design), Donald E. Claxon (production stage manager), Lynn Baber (casting director), Rengin Altay (assistant director), Jason Pikscher (technical director), Marc Chevalier (master electrician), Christine Lauer (assistant stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Lanise Antoine Shelley stars as Liz Rico in King Liz at Windy City PlayhouseJackie Alamillo and Lanise Antoine Shelley star as Gabby and Liz in King Liz, Windy City


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Drama, Video, Windy City Playhouse, YouTube

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