Four good actors sink their teeth into juicy roles in Sarah Burgess’ “Kings,” a smart but familiar story about the unappetizing impact of money on politics.
But for all of the actors’ fine efforts at the Public Theater, where the play runs through April 1, they’re nearly upstaged by a prop — a sense-tickling skillet of fajitas. Truly.
The food drama fits, considering that political wheeling-and-dealing goes with wining-and-dining — or at least with tucking into tasty little nibbles. The play’s frequently colliding foursome knows that all too well.
That includes confident Lauren (Aya Cash, of “You’re the Worst”), a well-off, well-married lobbyist in her 30s, who used to work for and now lobbies ambitious Texas senator and presidential hopeful John McDowell (Zach Grenier, of “33 Variations” and “The Good Wife”).
Shrill and rigid Kate (Gillian Jacobs, of “Don’t Think Twice”) is Lauren’s ex-girlfriend, a lower-rung lobbyist whose clients include C-list medical groups. Rounding out the group is Rep. Sydney Millsap (Eisa Davis, of “Passing Strange”), a Gold Star widow from Dallas, who, in a shocker, won her seat in a special election.
High-minded Millsap, a newbie in the political arena, has no time for corruption — and that means for Lauren, Kate and John. But you can’t play politics alone — and, moreover, without lots of money. Something’s or someone’s got to give.
Over the play’s 100 minutes Burgess hits on topical subjects, including one about a bill to eliminate carried interest that infuriates fat cats. She also captures the tedium of courting financial donors and just how dirty politics can get in a twist involving Milsap’s late husband. None of that is particularly illuminating.
Direction by “Hamilton” Tony-winner Thomas Kail, who staged Burgess’ “Dry Powder” at the same theater, moves things as fluidly and fleetly as possible. So many bite-sized scenes requiring frequent black-outs and changes kill momentum. The play’s repetitiveness, been-there, heard-this lack of surprises and occasional didactic tone also cause drag.
In the end, those fajitas sizzle. But “Kings” feels warmed over.