If you’re a LeBron James follower or basketball fanatic, this play will be like manna from Heaven. If an avid sports fan, you’ll understand its obsessive nature. As neither, the rest of us find an adroitly written piece about male bonding around whose axis those aspects swirl. As far as I’m concerned, Rajiv Joseph’s ear for organic, character driven dialogue is masterful – Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Guards at the Taj, Describe the Night. The production is deftly directed and believably acted.
2004. Cleveland, Ohio. Blue collar and ambitious, bartender Matt (Chris Perfetti) is selling his and his father’s Cleveland Cavalier (basketball) tickets to get himself out of a financial hole. The pair had been going since Matt was six, but his dad has health issues. He calculates what the tickets would be worth on open market and is asking $6,500.
Shawn (Glenn Davis), an African American (which factors in later) has dreamt of attending Cavalier games as long as he can remember. A fervent fan, he’s never even been to a live match. Both young men are extremely knowledgeable about the team’s personnel and history. Basketball is a religion. They lob opinions at one another. Working two jobs, Shawn offers a lowball $2,000, earned from selling his first short story. After much parrying, Matt accepts it in part because another buyer backs out, in part recognizing the stranger’s devotion.
There’s a marvelous parenthesis when Matt tells the naïve Shawn about a well honed stadium “system,” how to get to the seat, where to buy the first hot dog etc. Prize in hand, the buyer realizes he has two sets of tickets and no one to take. It’s Kismet. The two go together and over years, connect more deeply then either realizes.
In three more chapters, 2010, 2014, 2016, we hear about Shawn’s close relationship with Matt’s parents; about his school scholarship and evolution into a disgruntled LA-based television screenwriter while his friend hustles his vision opening a local club. Success, failure, and Matt’s family curiosity store, Armand’s (named after a taxidermy armadillo who holds pride of place in the window), figure into a credible plot. When outside pressures erupt in fraught, politically incorrect terms, Shawn takes things in hand and the friendship ultimately wins.
Both actors are excellent. Glenn Davis exhibits a skill with physical performance that makes him particularly appealing.
DJ Khloe Janel’s intra-act music is indicative of the time, but thoroughly extraneous. Director Kenny Leon is economic, nuanced and first rate.
Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal offers a Wine Cave at which Matt ostensibly works (WHY a wine cave rather than a bar) that looks like someone’s basement but for excess bottles. Manifestation of Armand’s, on the other hand, is quite wonderful.
Samantha C. Jones’ costumes are just right. Isolated spotlights in one’s eyes between every “chapter” are painful, unnecessary and of obscure meaning. (Lee Fiskness – Lighting)
LeBron James is considered one of the best players in history. He grew up in Akron and was selected by The Cleveland Cavaliers with first overall pick in 2003, named the Rookie of the Year in 2004, and lead the team to their first NBA Finals in 2007. Three years later, LeBron left as a free agent to join Miami Heat with whom he garnered two NBA Championships. It was, by many, considered treason. The athlete returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 leading them to a championship season. This is the time frame of King James.
Photos by Luc Fontana
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
King James by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Kenny Leon
City Center Stage I
131 West 55th Street