Manhattan Theatre Club Flourishes for Five Decades under Lynne Meadow's Leadership

May 23, 2023 : Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), founded in the early 1970s as a theater showcase in Off-Broadway, has remained committed to fostering new and engaging theatrical productions. Lynne Meadow, celebrating her 50th anniversary as artistic director, and executive producer Barry Grove, who joined in 1975, have steadfastly pursued their mission of supporting both emerging and established artists while presenting thought-provoking theater. Meadow, a trailblazer in a predominantly male industry, has played a pioneering role for women in theater production.

Although MTC initially operated from the Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street, their venues, including two theaters and a cabaret, quickly became buzzing hubs of activity. The key to their success has always been the exceptional quality of their work. From the early days, MTC produced plays by renowned playwrights like Terrence McNally and Sam Shepard. In 1973, even Robert De Niro, prior to his iconic roles in “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver,” appeared in Julie Bovasso’s play “Last Serenade.” Actress Christine Baranski describes MTC as a home where she can work, be accepted, experiment, and feel safe.

MTC’s productions have amassed an impressive collection of accolades, including 28 Tony Awards, 7 Pulitzer Prizes, and 50 Drama Desk Awards. In the recent season, their play “Cost of Living” received five Tony nominations, and “Summer, 1976” also earned a nomination.

This month, MTC presents another highly anticipated play called “King James.” Developed in collaboration with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Center Theatre Group, Rajiv Joseph’s play is a humorous, insightful, and deeply moving exploration of the profound bond formed between two individuals based on their shared idolization of basketball superstar LeBron James.

For Glenn Davis, starring alongside Chris Perfetti in “King James” and sharing a deep connection with Joseph, the genesis of the play dates back many years. In 2009 and 2010, while performing in Joseph’s play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” in Los Angeles, Davis and Joseph, both ardent basketball fans, enjoyed watching the Lakers play during breaks from rehearsals. Their shared passion for the sport and discussions about the greatest basketball players of all time forged an instant kinship. When Davis later became an artistic director at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, he approached Joseph, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, to commission a play. The result was “King James.”

The play is set in Cleveland, where basketball legend LeBron James began his career, and revolves around two men whose connection is rooted in their admiration for James. Davis explains that the play explores how James’ career trajectory infused Cleveland with hope and the subsequent impact of his departure to Miami. It delves into the dissipation of that hope and its effects on the city itself.

Using basketball as a backdrop, “King James” delves into the complexities of human connection when individuals struggle to express themselves fully. Joseph wanted to create a play about two friends who find it challenging to discuss deeper aspects of their lives but can do so through conversations about LeBron James. He believes that young American men, in particular, often struggle to express their deeper emotions to one another but find solace in discussing sports. By delving into the history of the game and athletes, they can indirectly express their deeper feelings. This dynamic leads to passionate arguments but also fosters emotional release through gestures like hugging, kissing, and crying.

For Davis, “King James” holds personal significance as it emerged from his friendship with Joseph. Davis assembled a dream team of artists, including Chris Perfetti, whose dazzling performance in “The Low Road” at the Public Theater caught his attention. Kenny Leon, an accomplished and prolific director, also joined the production.

Perfetti describes the play as a meditation on friendship, with basketball serving as a vehicle to explore the intricacies of the human condition. The narrative follows the relationship between the two characters, Sean (played by Davis) and Matt (played by Perfetti), over a span of twelve years. Perfetti explains that the audience witnesses their initial meeting and experiences the full spectrum of a friendship, including moments of betrayal, love, support, and hardship. He considers it a gift as an actor to portray such a multifaceted dynamic.

Without revealing too much, Perfetti notes that Sean and Matt are ardent Cavaliers fans who meet at a time when they both desperately need someone. Throughout the play, they continue to struggle, which creates rich and compelling moments for the actors. The audience witnesses the characters at their highest highs and lowest lows.

Leon, a dedicated Lakers fan and admirer of Joseph’s work, draws parallels between friendship and basketball. He remarks that most relationships do not reach the “fourth quarter”; they often falter in the early stages due to various reasons. However, “King James” delves into what happens during that crucial fourth quarter of a friendship. Leon sees beauty and reward in those moments, emphasizing that the play’s essence transcends basketball and LeBron James himself.