The title character is Izzie Silvers, who has for decades run a small grocery in Minneapolis. The store is a landmark, the place where locals gather and chat.
Chief among the gatherers are black Elvis Mooney and Hispanic Joe Chavez. Izzie, Elvis and Joe have built a friendship for some 50 years. These days the main topic is Elvis’ attention to a lonely widow; then there’s the matter of Jamar, Elvis’ grandson, who is happy as Izzie’s assistant, not so happy in school.
Big trouble intrudes as an overzealous bureaucrat wants the safety violations in Izzie’s store fixed pronto or she’ll close the place. And Izzie’s heart starts telling him to slow down.
Fear not. Matters work out smoothly, thanks to Jamar’s ambition, a friendlier code enforcer and an unexpected inheritance.
Minjares wrote this play, first produced by the Mixed Blood Theater of Minneapolis, as a tribute to his old neighborhood, and the affection shows. It revels in human and urban antiquities, with a nod to the young and the changes they bring. And while “King” can be used as a metaphor for the American tradition of minority groups rising through hard work and intelligence, the play’s real strength is its characterizations; only that Wicked Witch of the Inspection Bureau seems one-dimensional.
Besides creating believable people, Minjares shows a deft touch at extracting humor from ethnicity and characters’ attempts to alter old patterns.
For instance, Izzie, who says there are no new ideas, just “old ideas that haven’t been done yet,” has trouble adapting to the store’s cordless phone.
Craig Noel has directed with the loving touch the play requires, balancing the quaintness with scenes like a rap song-and-dance featuring Jamar and dreadlocked pal Billy.
Noel has elicited fine performances from the central trio, Kurt Knudson as Izzie, Ed Bernard as Elvis and Sam Vlahos as Joe.
Kevin Jackson makes a likable, dynamic Jamar, although his actor’s diction sometimes sneaks out amidst his street dialect, and Jeremiah Birkett is helpful as Billy.
Michelle Breaugh does more than might be expected with the thankless role of the villainous inspector, and Phil Lowey handles the audience-pleasing task of taming her.
Joel Fontaine’s set is a delight, a wonderfully detailed corner grocery-cum-convenience store.
Dona Granata’s costume’s limn the characters neatly, while Robert Peterson’s lighting and Jeff Ladman’s sound make their cues.