King of Shadows
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
September 4, 2008
King of Shadows is a stirring new play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa being produced by Working Theater.
Set in San Francisco, the story centers around a well-meaning graduate student with a trust fund, Jessica, who arranges to meet with a 15-year old homeless runaway named Nihar. Nihar is the perfect rare find, fitting Jessica's targeted demographic to tee. He's one of the "...Disenfranchised, At-risk, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Cross-gendered, and Questioning Homeless Youth in the Metropolitan Bay Area," as she self-consciously relays the clunky title of her dissertation.
But Nihar is not the typical runaway who relies on turning tricks to survive. He can predict sudden, unusual shifts in weather. He claims he is being pursued by supernatural demons. He also has wisdom beyond his years and for a troubled teen without a home he is very nurturing.
Upon a subsequent meeting with Nihar, Jessica is cornered into cutting a deal to let him stay with her for two nights. He claims he can then leave this world through a portal. In turn, he will reveal the truth about various missing homeless children. At Jessica's home he forges an instant connection with her contentious teenage sister Sarah. Jessica's police-officer boyfriend Eric is appropriately skeptical of Nihar's tales and motives. Soon the relationships of the characters are all at risk. We wonder who is telling the truth and who can be trusted.
Nihar isn't the only character being chased by demons; all four characters seem to be running toward or away from something: Jessica is trying to raise her teenage sister and start a new life; Eric has recently migrated after an incident as a New York City cop; Jessica's sister Sarah is constantly at odds with Jessica, blaming her for their parents' death and their upheaval to San Francisco. The relationships among the characters are complex and compelling: the sibling turned guardian sister, the police officer in love with his privileged girlfriend, the platonic affection between Nihar and Sarah.
Aguirre-Sacasa's writing brings to mind the works of smart fantasy/horror writers like Richard Matheson and Rod Serling.
The script moves deliberately for much of the first act, carefully introducing us to the four richly drawn characters. By intermission, we are deeply involved with the plight of each one. The tension-filled second act zips by at a rapid pace.
Aguirre-Sacasa takes some chances allowing the characters to speak directly to the audience on numerous occasions, but this doesn't detract attention from the unfolding drama.
Director Connie Grappo has woven all the pieces together in this production beautifully, objectively presenting all the characters with realistic shades of gray.
Kat Foster serves the production extremely well as the naïve, sympathetic heroine Jessica. Her portrayal of the character's growth within the story is affecting. Sarah Lord and Richard Short are terrific in supporting roles. The standout performance is by Satya Bhabha as Nihar. He transmits an otherworldly essence, presenting an almost mythical persona. His large, expressive eyes expose innocence and torment.
Wilson Chin has designed a gorgeous commanding set, but one that might be too dominant or detached for some of the locales of the play. The lighting design by Jack Mehler is effective, accentuating the perspectives of the characters. The foreboding sound design by M.L. Dogg sets an eerie mood.
King of Shadows wonderfully walks the line of fantasy and reality with touches of lush imagery.