On Thursday, M and I went to see a show at the Windy City Playhouse*- King Liz.
King Liz is a play (something I love) ostensibly about basketball (something M loves) and feminism (something we both care about deeply). It seemed like a slam dunk of a date night, if you'll pardon the pun.
The question as to whether or not we liked the play once we'd seen it is much more complicated. We talked about it the entire way home, an hour drive, each of us coming away with different feelings and impressions, and shifting opinions on everything from each actor's performance to our speculations on what happened between scenes.
Here's the gist, and yes, there are spoilers in here. Liz is a sports agent, think Jerry Maguire. She believes she's the best, and she's at the top of her career. But in order for her to be approved as the new CEO of her firm, the outgoing CEO pressures her to take on a new client, a teenager with incredible potential but a slew of emotional problems.
So Liz, who has been driven by ambition her whole life, finds herself in the position of sort of babysitting this kid who has never had a read mother figure, who is clearly craving love and affection and most of all somebody to teach him to navigate the world, and who seems hell bent on destroying all his opportunities.
I don't want to give it all away, but the ending left me wanting, and not only because I find the use of suicide as a deus ex machina frustratingly unhelpful to both storytelling and the real-life epidemic of suicide. After the lights came up and the final bows were over, I imagined a thousand ways I wanted to end it differently.
Liz abandons her new position, all her success, because she has found a tenderness inside herself that she needs to express. She begins to act outside her own best interest, she achieves a sort of motherhood, and I found it deeply saddening. As a mom who has struggled to find my place in the "working" world, I don't want stories about how it's impossible to achieve professionally and still have a happy personal life. It's a fiction I've been fed my whole life, that women need to be mothers in some way to be fulfilled, and that in order to be seen as equals to men in professional life we need to sacrifice all that makes us feminine.
I wanted Liz to find balance, not to swing the pendulum completely. I wanted her to find a peace inside herself that let her live with guilt and disappointment, not because she needed to feel bad about her life, but because life is full of guilt and disappointment. I wanted Liz to use her new position to make life better for her assistant and the other women coming up the chain behind her, and I wanted her to do things HER way, which as it turned out was pretty compassionate all along, even if she didn't realize it herself.
But, Liz makes all these decisions on her own terms. Even if she makes a choice I thought was wrong, it was her choice. King Liz never takes agency away from the titular character. I think I must begrudgingly accept that makes King Liz authentic in its feminism, even if it does play into the ideas of a binary of female existence- mother figure OR professional icon, but not both.
Though I found the play's ending a troubling, frustrating thing, it stuck with me for days. And honestly, that's a good indication of a damn fine play. And it was. The actors were amazing, every one.
The staging was clever and immersive. The dialogue was rapid and witty and I was hooked into it, hard. The story was complex and I was emotionally invested in every character.
I think there were some pretty important lessons to take away from King Liz. That in many ways, women are equal oppressors of other women in professional life. That racism and sexism are alive and well, and we must acknowledge and confront them.
Definitely go to King Liz if you have a chance. Then come back here and let me know what you think!
*We were given promotional tickets, but the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
Read more about the need for feminism in the media here: Poor Little Rapist: Josh Duggar Edition
Read my latest post here: How Living With Brain Cancer is like Living on a Volcano
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