Kingdom City – La Jolla Playhouse

It has been a while since I have seen a play in which each of the six characters are so sharply drawn. In fact, each character evolves throughout the arc of the play in believable and honest fashion. With a theme that is contentious, it is remarkable that hardly a false note is struck during this production.

Kingdom City is the titular city in Missouri in which a theatrical director from NYC tries to mount a high school production of The Crucible. Miriam, well played by ­Kate Blumberg, evolves from one who talks a good game but too often fails to take the final leap of conviction. Her husband Daniel (Todd Weeks) is a frustrated writer who finds unsuspecting satisfaction in helping build a wall of stone with Luke, the local youth minister (Ian Littleworth).

Todd Weeks (left) as “Daniel” and Ian Littleworth as “Luke”

Todd Weeks (left) as “Daniel” and Ian Littleworth as “Luke”

Kate Blumberg as “Miriam” and Todd Weeks as “Daniel”

Kate Blumberg as “Miriam” and Todd Weeks as “Daniel”

As Miriam casts her three leads for the play, one couple is confronted with the demands of their religious convictions. Matt (Austyn Myers) and Katie (Cristina Gerla) are scheduled to publicly pronounce their sexual purity, and can’t reconcile performing the final passionate kiss in the play when off stage they will go no further than holding hands. Rounding out the cast is Crystal (Katie Sapper) a fiery thespian who uses sultry bluster to hide inner darkness. Indeed, her fragility aligning with her name is one of the play’s key turning points.

The underlying plot is pulled by playwright Sheri Wilner from the rash of headlines describing cancellation of high school productions (incredibly, everything from Rent and Legally Blonde to The Crucible and Spamalot).  The irony of The Crucible actually being cancelled in the Missouri town next to Kingdom City resonates on several levels: not only is the book pervasively on high school reading lists across the country, the Arthur Miller work is itself a thinly veiled account of Puritanical repression.

Director Jackson Gay does a fine job of balancing the competing and evolving emotions onstage. At one point the action crosscuts in cinematic fashion, with an almost breathless result.

This is a very ambitious play, broaching myriad flashpoint issues. It delivers with conviction.


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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