By Lucy Komisar
When I saw this amazingly timely play by Sarah Burgess, about corporate Democrats attacking a progressive Texas candidate, I thought people might think, that really is a stretch. But no, it was real. It‘s at the Public Theater, but have you checked the news? Do you know that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has just in recent weeks attacked Laura Moser, a terrific progressive female candidate for Congress from Houston, Texas?
Could Burgess have written her play so fast! I don‘t think so! Turns out the DCCC is really as stupid and corrupt as the imaginary campaign committee in the play. Director Thomas Kail done a fine job of making you think you are watching real life TV. That is a compliment.
So, in place of Moser, put Sidney Millsap (Eisa Davis), a very smart progressive black member of Congress from Dallas, smoothly portrayed by Davis. Besieged by lobbyists.
The play is so real you don‘t know whether to laugh or cry at how the national Democratic Party, taken over by the corporates, the donors, and their lobbyist and campaign-advisor lackeys, fights to keep Republicans-light in power. This could be a news video on how the corrupt congressional system works.
Somehow an honest person got elected to Congress from Dallas. Millsap is in her 40s, energetic, idealistic. First, we see her besieged by lobbyist Lauren (Aya Cash), who promises to give her cash if she introduces a bill to require Medicaid patients to go to podiatrists if they have foot problems. She represents the podiatrists. Forget about doctors making that decision. Millsap says maybe they just need a prescription. By the way Lauren is a finance lobbyist married to the head of the agency that oversees finance. Oh, right.
Meanwhile Millsap is spending too many hours a day calling people to come to fundraisers.
Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is another lobbyist who has the advantage of having worked for a senator (Zach Grenier) who will naturally channel her donors‘ desires. Along with getting their cash.
The two interchangeable women in their 30s tell her it‘s so easy to do what the funders want. Read the room, be who you need to be based on the room. Millsap says, “I‘m always the same person.” Aya Cash as Lauren and Gillian Jacobs as Kate are fine as the lobbyists. But so interchangeable that sometimes when one came on stage (thin, nervous energy, long hair), I was not sure which she was.
The podiatrists are easy. Forget them. The key issue is the carried interest tax loophole that establishes a cut-rate tax for the people who run private equity funds, the superrich people whose income is in billions and think they should have tax rates lower than teachers, bus drivers and anybody in the middle class. They declare that their incomes are capital gains. This is a fraud, a fake, a lie. Capital gains are when you risk your own money. These guys are running other people‘s money.
So, when ordinary people pay real tax rates, these guys have a fake rate. But how do they get this. Answer: they have paid off members of Congress, big. Think about Chuck Schumer, the senator from Wall Street. Will he see this play? (Wish Burgess had put him in it, but maybe Sen. John McDowell (Grenier) is an avatar.)
When McDowell, the state‘s conservative Democratic senator, a man in his 60s, tries to persuade Millsap to play along, she announces she will run against him! Of course, the corrupt Democrats dispatching campaign funds from Washington, instead of staying neutral according to the rules (what rules!!”hey remember the DNC $ run corruptly by Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz?) announce their opposition. This campaign funding group is called “Freedom Strong.” (Your unexpurgated comment goes here.) Millsap is a war widow, and they launch an attack on her dead husband. (Recalls the swift boat attacks on John Kerry.)
You‘ll have to stick around to see how it turns out. Better than the news. It‘s not a “great” play, but an important play. It‘s a theatrical op ed, a staged cry to the people.
I kept wondering about the title, and then I realized it was a reference to the royal inherited rule of kings, who in America are the members of Congress. Who think of themselves as the kings did. And are mostly as corrupt and in need of being overthrown.
“Kings.” Written by Sarah Burgess, directed by Thomas Kail. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York City (bet 4th St and Astor Place) 212-967-7555; $20 rush tickets at theater. Opened Feb 20, 2018; closes April 1, 2018. 1 hour 40 minutes; no intermission. 3/6/18.