KingDom Come: A Dating Puzzle
Down in the deep Roundabout Underground, we find ourselves face to face with Samantha, an obese woman, propped up in bed in Carson City, Nevada. She stares through us blankly as we walk into the theatre and take our seats to wait for Kingdom Come. Carmen M. Herilihy (Samantha) shows great composure as her character waits for her home health aid, Delores (played with convincing charm and care by Socorro Santiago) to arrive. When she finally does, they watch The Price is Right together, eat, and talk about Delores’s aspiring actor/busboy son, Dominick who’s struggling to make a name for himself in LA.
Over on the other side of the exceptionally functional set (good work set designer: Arnulfo Maldonado), a worn out office worker anxiously and depressively works away on her computer late into the night. Layne, meticulously well played by Crystal Finn, seems destined to live the sad and lonely life of the anxiously shy, until a ‘selfie’-obsessed co-worker, Suz (a miraculously layered performance by Stephanie Styles) struts in and shakes up her life. She forcibly suggests online dating to Layne, and we are off to the races.
It’s a compelling piece of playwriting by Jenny Rachel Weiner, that begs us to question ideas about love and loneliness, and what happens when we fall for someone who is pretending to be someone else while simultaneously, we are pretending to be someone we are not. It leads me to ask, do we actually fall in love with the fantasy image or the person who is hiding behind the fantasy?
Samantha is a complex puzzle and at the heart of this deception. We’re not quite sure why she is the way she is or why she does the things she does, but it’s clear she’s very frustrated and angry with her world, especially with her mother. We get glimpses inside as she opens up a little to Dominick (an assured and sweet performance by Alex Hernandez) when he comes to town to visit his mother, and recognizes Samantha from high school. But we are not clear as to why it is his identity that she hijacks on the online dating service; stealing his words, phrases, life, and photos. Samantha as Dom actually turns out to be quite a good guy; caring and thoughtful, speaking to other suitors with kindness and respect. In a cyber meet-cute, it is Layne, who reaches out online pretending to be the sexy Courtney, who falls for Samantha/Dom.
This is one of those plays that I couldn’t help myself getting sucked into. I was so curious to see how it was all going to turn out in the end, even when the sign posts directing the action seemed pretty clear (great projection design by Darrel Maloney). The constant lies made me nervous and cringe throughout. I wasn’t even sure how invested I was in any of their lives, nor if I liked or understood these people, but I was drawn in enough to stay engaged. Weiner does a good job keeping us intrigued as does director, Kip Fagan, but not so well with our understanding of these souls, especially Samantha. Samantha stays a bit ambiguous; we understand her loneliness and isolation, but why choose a man to personify? And why does she only engage with women? Is she trying to treat other women in the way she would like to be treated? Or is there more to it then that?
Finn and Weiner do a better job with the shy and nervous Layne as she confronts her own deception and revelations. It’s a journey we can get on board with, forgive, and also feel sympathy for. She shows us such a desire for love and understanding that we can’t help wanting her to find it. Styles and Hernandez play their respective roles with a whole lot of surprising heart and depth, creating layers to their conventional sidekick parts, when others might have settled for simple stereotypes. I think they excelled even when the play did not.
I’m not sure Weiner gives us enough to draw any conclusions at the end of their charade, so we are left with trying to solve the emotional puzzle on our own. It is a complicated dating world out there, when sad souls present fantasy creations in hopes of finding connection and love, but in the end of KingDom Come, the picture isn’t quite complete. A few pieces are still missing.