Directed by Katherine Brook
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Laryssa Husiak’s “She is King,” currently running at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery, is a heartfelt and emotionally compelling tribute to the life and spirit of tennis superstar and innovator Billie Jean King. Ms. Husiak, who also portrays Billie Jean King, provides a sensitive and authentic depiction of the tennis star’s passion for gender equality, the importance of tennis being an open sport, and the importance of an entertainer’s “emotional involvement” with the audience/spectators.
“She is King” includes verbatim accounts of three important interviews in King’s long career: her 1973 interview with James Day (Joshua William Galb), host of a CUNY-TV cable talk show, “Day at Night;” her interview with pop singer Toni Tennille (Louisa Bradshaw); and her interview in 1981 with Barbara Walters (Louisa Bradshaw) after she was outed following her affair with Marilyn Barnett.
In each of these interviews, Ms. Husiak successfully embodies Billie Jean King’s extraordinary dedication to the sport of tennis, the need for strong role models for young players, and the need for changes in the understanding of and the teaching about gender role stereotypes. King’s challenge to James Day to define what it means to be “masculine” and “feminine” belies the depth of sexism and chauvinism in the early 1970s. Day simply does not understand King’s interpretation of “mental toughness” and the importance of concentration.
A group of energetic middle-school “Ball Kids” acts as “run crew” for the production. Of these students, the press release states: “Citing Billie Jean King’s own efforts on behalf of equal rights regardless of gender, race, class, age and sexuality, Ms. Husiak sees youth involvement in the production as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of equality and social justice for all people, and also notes that it was as a pre-teen that Billie Jean King herself first discovered her own passion for tennis.” The students, despite their energy, were sometimes distracting, especially in the final scene when their removal of a somewhat heavy prop interrupted the beginning of Ms. Husiak’s powerful singing of Bob Dylan’s 1967 “I Shall Be Released.”
“She is King” is well worth a visit and seats should be reserved soon for the remained of its short run.