Theater Review: LOVE ALL (La Jolla Playhouse)

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by Milo Shapiro on June 15, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Ask most people what they know about Billy Jean King, other than fact that she played tennis, and there’s a good likelihood that you’ll hear a story about Bobby Riggs. Anna Deavere Smith’s play turns that inside out by focusing on almost everything but that to show just how interesting King’s whole life has been (can’t say “was” — the 79-year-old King voices the pre-show welcome). Fortunately for Smith, there’s a lot to say about this ground-breaking women’s rights leader before the infamous Riggs vs. King match that seems to be her legacy in many minds.

Lenne Klingaman, Chilina Kennedy and Elena Hurst

From her earliest days on the courts right through her triumphs at Wimbledon and beyond, King (Chilina Kennedy) was undervalued, underpaid, and underfeatured in the press compared to her male counterparts. The steps she took weren’t just bold; they threatened to ruin the futures of all the female tennis players who joined her campaigns for equality. All of this makes for some good storytelling, especially when the script digs deep into both the support and struggles of her marriage to Larry (John Kroft) through her coming to terms with her attraction to women.

Bianca Amato and Chilina Kennedy

Scenic design by Robert Brill is simple, yet effective, with the front of the stage being used for multiple settings and the back being bleachers for scenes that lent themselves to that. Projection design by S. Katy Tucker helps remind us of the turbulence of the ‘60s and ‘70s that King’s story is up against.

Chilina Kennedy and Justin Withers

Love All covers about a thirty-year span in its two hours plus intermission and still doesn’t cover some important aspects of her life (like her eating disorder or her being publicly outed by her secretary in a palimony suit). Herein lies a bit of the challenge. Kennedy plays Billie Jean pretty true to what we’ve seen of the legend in interviews over the decades. King’s story is certainly stimulating and easily holds us, but it’s a bit like seeing an interesting documentary put upon the stage. For most of the show, King is either righteously angry about something or pleased again. There isn’t a lot of drama in this drama, despite being a good story well told. In the end, it’s hard to imagine almost anyone not enjoying Love All … or raving about it. It’s a hearty meal, but not Thanksgiving dinner.

Rebecca S’Manga Frank, Bianca Amato and Chilina Kennedy

What it does do well is give us reason to more fully appreciate the role this civil rights leader played in creating the kind of equality in recognition, opportunity, and funding that we’re closer to seeing today – at great risk to her own success and safety.

Elena Hurst, Nancy Lemenager, Bianca Amato,
Chilina Kennedy and Allison Spratt Pearce

photos by Rich Soublet Photography

Love All
La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego (Regional Theater)
2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
Tues, Wed at 7:30; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on July 2, 2023
for tickets, call ­ (858) 550-1010 or visit La Jolla Playhouse

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