All the King's Women
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
July 15, 2007
In All The King's Women, a series of scenes and monologues performed by a strong cast of four actors guide the audience through a period in American history when Elvis Presley was king. Although the icon never makes an appearance or engages with any of the characters in the scenes, he is referred to throughout the evening's presentation. However, the point is perhaps not so much about Elvis per se, but instead these scenes reveal snapshots of an American culture, people, and place.
Playwright Luigi Jannuzzi mines inspiration from actual events in Elvis's life as well as imagined situations involving characters, mostly women, reacting to the King. In a nearly chronological order, the stand-alone scenes take place between the 1940s and the present day. Each scene is listed in the program with a date and location, driving home the point that these characters and situations are best understood within the context of their period.
In the scene "The Censor & the King," three characters negotiate the rules of Elvis's television appearance in response to the now quaint censorship code of the 1950s. Also inspired by actual events, there is a nicely played scene of three excited White House telephone operators describing Elvis's bizarre visit to meet President Nixon in the early 1970s. The three interspersed monologues also follow a nice arc of characters who witness Elvis from childhood through the end of his career. Transitions between scenes are not, as one would assume, with Elvis's music, but anchored by recorded radio addresses that reinforce the appropriate historical flavor of the current events of the times.
Jannuzzi has a good ear for the periods and for his characters allowing his actors to show range. And while Jannuzzi capably uses Elvis as the historical frame for giving us these snapshots in American life, the current presentation as a whole still feels like it needs that extra step to tie it all together. Also, with the title All The King's Women, the female characters are mostly just reacting to Elvis's presence or are driven to act because of a situation he created. I would have liked to see more investigation or illumination as to why these female characters specifically were so drawn to Elvis Presley and what that might say in relation to women's roles during the periods that Jannuzzi sets up.
As a production, director Branan Whitehead gives room for his actors to shine in the intimate Where Eagles Dare venue. And actors Jessica Asch, Rebecca Bateman, Alisha Campbell, and Craig Clary deliver confidently.