July 27, 2015

As portrayed with fierce and compelling focus by Karen Pittman, Liz Rico, the heroine of “King Liz,” a new play by Fernanda Coppel, is as powerfully smart as she is powerfully sexy. Also just plain powerful, at least in the realm of sports-agenting, where she has nearly reached the pinnacle. Ms. Coppel’s engrossing if sometimes formulaic drama, at the McGinn/Cazale Theater as part of Second Stage’s Uptown summer season, explores the pressures that Liz comes under as an independent black woman in a field generally dominated by — well, not black women, independent or otherwise. Liz has worked for more than two decades at an agency run by a more typical macher in the field, the white, older Mr. Candy (Michael Cullen), who has been a generous mentor but can also casually reveal his condescension to the woman whose career he shaped. As the play begins, he puts pressure on Liz to sign Freddie Luna (Jeremie Harris), a high school basketball phenomenon from the hard streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Yes, I know, some are not so hard anymore.) Liz has qualms about his maturity, but his talent is undeniable, and Mr. Candy suggests that landing Freddie — and signing him with a major franchise — would go some way toward securing Liz’s stature as the preferred candidate to take over the agency when he imminently retires.