On February 20, the second collaboration between director Thomas Kail and playwright Sarah Burgess officially opened at Manhattan’s Public Theater. Kings follows their successful run of Dry Powder.
Having explored the world of U.S. private equity and Wall Street financials in Dry Powder, this time around, Burgess tackles the politics of Washington, D.C., in a story about two Washington lobbyists, a Senator and a Congresswoman, both pushing their respective agendas in a system married to money.
Public Theater alum Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Tony-winning Hamilton began at the Public, was in attendance to support the theatre and Kail (who directed his In the Heights and Hamilton). “I loved it,” Miranda told Playbill on Facebook Live after the show. “I love Sarah's writing. Eisa Davis is one of my good friends and number one talent crush, and she is amazing in the show. I very much want her to run for office for real, and I very much want to eat fajitas, and you will understand both of those things when you see the show.”
Actor Zach Grenier plays Texas’ Senator McDowell in the production, a longtime politician who says he works in “political realities.” He spoke to Playbill about why working with the Tony-winning Kail is such a rewarding experience: “Working with Tommy in general is just an absolute joy because everything comes from the actor. He shapes what are your strong points. He cast it very well with these three incredible actors I'm working with. As far as the naturalism in a styled piece, it's a very, very tight play, and yet there's opportunity for true moments to come between people, and that's a real thing and that's Sarah. And, her work in rehearsals over the month we were rehearsing, she's just fantastic. She's able to pull nuance, to get rid of things that are so obviously funny that people would be satisfied with. She's just a wonderful, wonderful playwright.”
Audiences may recognize Grenier from his time on CBS’ The Good Wife, and another crossover star, Aya Cash from TV’s You’re The Worst. As for playing Kings’ Lauren, Cash was drawn to the of-the-moment piece and her character. “I think it's more fun to play the opposite of what you think because you have to look at things from a new perspective. It's much more interesting to force myself to look through someone else's eyes,” she said. “I prefer playing people I don't agree with.”
Her co-star, Community’s Gillian Jacobs, also relishes her character’s perspective. “I like playing somebody who has that kind of conflict and that kind of complexity,” she said. “It's all in Sarah's writing. ... You're seeing someone who, for the first time, is considering if what they're doing is harmful and also balancing that with being a pragmatist and being a realist and saying, ‘Even if I am to leave this job, it's not going to change the American political system.’”
As for Eisa Davis, the fourth corner of this dramatic quadrangle—and Miranda’s aforementioned talent crush—she, too, praised Burgess’ writing. “I love being in a play like this that is so smart, that is saying something about our country that we actually, perhaps, may not know—which is about the fact that everyone who is on the Hill, the people we have elected into office, has to spend the majority of their time fundraising now—which is a waste of time. That's what actually gets us into the position that we're in, in terms of our legislative policies and the fact that so many things just deadlock and never get anywhere.... There's this really important thing that she's saying in this comedic thing. ... It's edu-tainment.”
While Kings does not come to any conclusions, it’s another in the wave of active questioning theatre does so well. And, Davis urges people who come to see Kings to remember: “When it comes to making change, you always need people to keep stumbling forward and failing. You have massive movements that grow over time until you reach a tipping point and there's a shift in the culture. I don't take any single story as a litmus test for how things are going to go or not, because I know the way history works is it's always about the aggregate.”