Thursday, March 17, 2022

REVIEW: World Premiere of King James at Steppenwolf Theatre Through April 10, 2022

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Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens world premiere of

King James

By ensemble member Rajiv Joseph

Directed by Tony and Obie Award winner Kenny Leon

Starring ensemble member and Artistic Director Glenn Davis and Chris Perfetti

Now playing through April 10, 2022

Running Time: runs approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one intermission. 


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Ensemble member and Artistic Director Glenn Davis and Chris Perfetti in King James. All Production Photos by Michael Brosilow.

It's such a joy to be back at Steppenwolf after a longer pandemic induced break than I ever imagined possible. Their new facility is a marvel, and with two new full-service bars, socializing before and after shows is better than ever. We're thrilled to see what the coming years bring for their expanded education facilities and new theatre in the round space. 

When I heard that Steppenwolf was reopening with a basketball themed world premiere, I was a bit skeptical as well as intrigued. Most diehard basketball fans don't overlap with the thespian crowd, and vice versa. Still, despite never having seen LeBron James play in my life, I can highly recommend this LeBron James play. It's a heartwarming buddy bonanza, that begins with a chance encounter and blooms into a lifelong friendship that changes the trajectory of two young men's lives. The acting is A-list, as this production spans years of interconnection between Shawn (Glenn Davis) and Matt (Chris Perfetti). Through alternating career highs and lows, loves and losses, family business and extended family bonding, this endearing ode to friendship and fandom is a win.

There's actually little about Lebron's life, so basketball knowledge isn't a prerequisite to understand or enjoy this show. Rather, King James is a deep dive into the psychology of super fans, and the connection and emotional release valve that sports affords men, in a world where our toxic masculinity culture permits few other acceptable outlets for either. 

My husband is a location sound engineer who has met LeBron James numerous times over the years, on shoots for ESPN, but I couldn't pick the guy out on the street or answer a single trivia questions about his illustrious career. Despite my b-ball ignorance, I still found this production to be fantastic and highly recommend King James. 

Pictured below: LeBron James, my husband-Doug Mara, 
and Rachel Nichols, ESPN Sports Broadcaster
Photos via Dug Production Sound, Inc. 

ESPN feature on LeBron James Family Foundation, where he reads stories, takes kids to Cedar Point Amusement Park near Cleveland, and funds higher education opportunities.

Steppenwolf's King James curiosity shop and wine bar sets by Todd Rosenthal are truly fantastic eye candy, with a stunning level of attention to detail. Again, the acting is fantastic, and the script is utterly unique, and a welcome addition to the modern theatrical canon. Don't miss this. 

*Want more from playwright, Rajiv Joseph? Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens April 22 at Northwestern University's Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts and runs through May 1:  (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is suitable for audiences aged 18 and upwards.)

King James is the latest play from Cleveland native Rajiv Joseph, who burst onto the American theatre scene with Pulitzer Prize finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which had its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2009 before going on to Broadway in 2011—where Glenn Davis starred in the production alongside Robin Williams. Joseph and Davis formed a strong friendship and working partnership that grew from that production.

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, videographer, actress, artist and Mama. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

More About King James

Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the nation’s premier ensemble theater company, presents its world premiere production of King James by ensemble member Rajiv Joseph, staged by acclaimed Tony and Obie Award-winning director Kenny Leon (Broadway’s A Raisin in the Sun; NBC TV’s “Hairspray Live!”) in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater, now through April 10, 2022. Featuring ensemble member and Artistic Director Glenn Davis alongside Chris Perfetti (ABC TV’s “Abbott Elementary”) and Khloe Janel, this fast-paced, witty and deeply felt comedy is the story of an unlikely friendship forged by fandom, told through the lens of “King” LeBron James' career and legacy. The two friends’ shared love of basketball and verbal games of one-on-one help them navigate the hopes, desires and fears they have bottled up since childhood. 

Single tickets to King James ($20-$88) are on sale now at and 312-335-1650. The production is part of Steppenwolf’s 4-Play Deal for $150 that also includes Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool, ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, and ensemble member Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of Seagull, which opens Steppenwolf’s new in-the-round Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell this spring. The 4-Play Deal is available through April 1 at and 312-335-1650.

King James is co-commissioned and co-produced by Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group. 

 Artist Bios

Glenn Davis (Shawn) is an actor, tv/film producer, and an Artistic Director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company. He has been a Steppenwolf Ensemble member since 2017, where his credits include Downstate, The Christians, You Got Older, The Brother/Sister Plays and Head of Passes. Broadway credits include Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (also Kirk Douglas Theatre, Mark Taper Forum). Off-Broadway credits include Transfers (MCC Theatre) and Wig Out! (Vineyard Theatre). Other regional credits include Moscow x6 (Williamstown Theatre Festival). International credits include Downstate (National Theatre, UK) Edward II, The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It (Stratford Festival), as well as Othello at The Shakespeare Company. Television credits include Billions, 24, The Unit, Jericho and The Good Wife. Glenn is an artistic associate at the Young Vic in London and at the Vineyard Theatre in New York. In 2021, Glenn founded The Chatham Grove Company, alongside his producing partner Tarell Alvin McCraney, which is currently in an overall deal with Universal Content Productions (UCP). He is also a partner in Cast Iron Entertainment, a collective of artists consisting of Sterling K Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Jon Michael Hill, Andre Holland, and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Cast Iron is currently in residence at The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Glenn is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. He is also the first African-American graduate of The Stratford Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training. 

Chris Perfetti (Matt) stars as a series regular on ABC’s hilarious new comedy, Abbott Elementary, from creator, executive producer and star Quinta Brunson. His past television credits include recurring roles on HBO's Looking, The CW's In the Dark, HBO's Emmy-winning limited series The Night Of, FOX’s The Resident; series regular on NBC’s Crossbones with John Malkovich and Claire Foy; and guest appearances in FX's What We Do in the Shadows, CBS’s Bull, Netflix's Bonding, and more. Recent films include The Virtuoso opposite Anson Mount and Anthony Hopkins, Minyan, and a starring role in Hulu’s The Surrogate from writer/director Jeremy Hersh. A gifted stage actor, Chris’ extensive theater credits include Broadway revivals of: Six Degrees of Separation opposite Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins; and Picnic with Ellen Burstyn, Sebastian Stan and Mare Winningham. Off-Broadway, he starred in Stephen Karam's Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, Sons of the Prophet, for which Chris won the Theatre World Award for his NY stage debut; and received a Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Drama League nomination for his work in MCC's Moscow x6 by Halley Feiffer. Additional NY credits include The Low Road at The Public Theater; Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ Everybody at the Signature Theater, directed by Lila Neugebauer; The Tempest at Shakespeare in the Park; Cloud Nine at Atlantic Theater Company; and The Tutors at Second Stage, directed by Tommy Kail. He is a graduate of the acting conservatory at SUNY Purchase and resides in Brooklyn, New York. Chris makes his Steppenwolf Theatre debut with King James, which will transfer to LA’s Mark Taper Forum in June 2022.

Khloe Janel (DJ) has appeared in Chicago in productions including Hatfield & McCoy (House Theatre), Fly Honey Show (Den Theatre), Haymarket (Underscore Theatre) and Last Stop on Market Street (Chicago Children’s Theatre). Film credits include I Used To Go Here. Television credits include Wizdom, Chicago P.D, Chicago Fire, Easy, Empire and The Chi. They received a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago.

Kenny Leon (Director) is a Tony and Obie Award-winning; Emmy-nominated; Broadway and Television director. Most recently, he directed Lifetime’s Emmy-nominated Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia. Last year, he directed the Tony Award-winning Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, A Soldier's Play, for which he also received a nomination for Best Director.  Currently on Netflix, he has directed episodes of Colin in Black & White and Amend: The Fight for America. He also directed The Underlying Chris at Second Stage Theatre Company and the acclaimed production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park. Broadway: A Soldier’s Play; American Son; Children of a Lesser God; Holler If Ya Hear Me; A Raisin in the Sun (Tony Award; 2014); The Mountaintop; Stick Fly; August Wilson’s Fences, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. Off-Broadway: Everybody’s Ruby, Emergence-See! (The Public); Smart People (Second Stage). Television: Colin in Black & White; 4400; Amend: The Fight for America; American Son (adapted for Netflix); Hairspray Live!; The Wiz Live!; Steel Magnolias; Dynasty; In My Dreams. Author: Take You Wherever You Go. Artistic Director Emeritus, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. Senior Resident Director: Roundabout Theatre Company.

Rajiv Joseph’s (Playwright) play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and also awarded a grant for Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts. He has twice won the Obie Award for Best New American Play, first in 2016 for Guards at the Taj (also a 2016 Lortel Winner for Best Play) and then, in 2018, for Describe the Night. Other plays include Letters of Suresh, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper, The North Pool, The Lake Effect, Archduke and Mr. Wolf. He is a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  He received his Bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his MFA from New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Rajiv is an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa. 

“King” LeBron James’s reign in Cleveland brings promise, prosperity and renewal to a city in desperate need of all three. It also brings together two unlikely friends in a bond forged by fandom. Told over 12 years (from LeBron's rookie season to an NBA Championship), King James is an intimate exploration of the place that sports occupy in our lives and relationships.

Ensemble member Rajiv Joseph's clever and fast-paced comedy traces the arcs of two friends whose turbulent relationship is best navigated through their shared love of basketball—and the endless amiable arguments that erupt from that love. All the while, the promise and burden of LeBron's talent and legacy loom large.

Ticket information: Single tickets ($20 - $88) are on sale now. Receive a great deal and get access to all four remaining shows of the season with the new 4-Play Deal for $150 through April 1, which also includes Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool (April 28–May 22), ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy (June 16–July 24), and ensemble member Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of Seagull, which opens Steppenwolf’s new in-the-round Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell this spring (April 28–June 12).

The 4-Play Deal for $150 and single tickets to King James and the remaining 21/22 shows are on sale now at and 312-335-1650.

King James creative team includes Todd Rosenthal (Scenic Design); Samantha C. Jones (Costume Design); Lee Fiskness (Lighting Design); Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Sound Design); Sophiyaa Nayar (Associate Director); Polly Hubbard (Dramaturg); Gigi Buffington (Company Voice and Text Coach); Tom Pearl (Director of Production); JC Clementz, CSA (Casting Director); Laura D. Glenn (Production Stage Manager); and Jaclynn Joslin (Assistant Stage Manager). For full cast and creative team bios, visit

The Expanded Steppenwolf Campus

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s trailblazing new 50,000 square foot theater building and education center, the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center, was designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill FAIA of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, with construction by Norcon. The centerpiece of the new Arts and Education Center is the new 400-seat in-the-round Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell—one of its kind in Chicago—with theater design and acoustics by Charcoalblue. The inaugural production in the Ensemble Theater will be ensemble member Yasen Peyankov’s extraordinarily funny and magical adaptation of Seagull, stacked with a cast of ensemble members (April 28–June 12, 2022).

The expanded Steppenwolf campus is a cultural nexus for Chicago, offering bold and ambitious opportunities for creative expression, social exchange, unparalleled accessibility, and arts-driven learning for Chicago youth in The Loft, Steppenwolf’s first-ever dedicated education space. The campus expansion also features bright new lobbies and two new full-service bars for socializing designed by fc STUDIO, inc. The $54 million new building is part of Steppenwolf’s multi-phase $73 million Building on Excellence expansion campaign. Learn more about Steppenwolf’s campus expansion at

A Safe Return

Steppenwolf is part of the growing coalition of more than 70 Chicagoland performing arts venues and producers that have agreed upon COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements for all audiences, artists and staff. Audience members must provide proof of vaccination in addition to wearing masks. Learn more about Steppenwolf's guidelines at

Steppenwolf has worked over the past year with our operations team, public health advisors and HVAC consultants to prepare its facility to safely welcome patrons back for performances. The addition of the new Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center has expanded the square footage of the lobbies to nearly twice the previous amount of space offered to guests. Two additional elevators and multiple stairways have also been added to Steppenwolf’s campus for ease of transition between seating levels. The HVAC systems have undergone upgrades to allow for increased filtration and a higher percentage of circulated fresh air across all three theaters.


Steppenwolf offers accessible services to ensure all audience members have access to our work, including American Sign Language interpretation (available for student matinees as scheduled with education staff or per public performances below), Spanish Language captions, wheelchair accessible seating and more. With questions, email

Sponsor Information

King James is generously supported in part by PNC and the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation. United Airlines is the Official and Exclusive Airline of Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf is also grateful for the significant season support from the Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing Arts, Northern Trust, Allstate Insurance Company, ComEd, JPMorgan Chase, PNC, and Vinci Restaurant.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is a Chicago theater that is home to America’s ensemble. The company began performing in the mid-1970s in the basement of a Highland Park, IL church—today Steppenwolf is the nation’s premier ensemble theater with 49 members who are among the top actors, playwrights and directors in the field. Deeply rooted in its ensemble ethos, the company is committed to equity, diversity, inclusion and making the Steppenwolf experience accessible to all. Groundbreaking productions from Balm in Gilead and August: Osage County to Downstate and Pass Over—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony® Awards—have made the theatre legendary. Artistic programming includes a main stage season; a Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; LookOut, a multi-genre performance series; and the Steppenwolf NOW virtual stage. The nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf Education engages more than 20,000 participants annually in Chicagoland communities promoting compassion, encouraging curiosity and inspiring action. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, more than 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. 2021 marks the opening of Steppenwolf’s landmark Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts & Education Center—deepening the company’s commitment to Chicagoland teens and serving as a cultural nexus for Chicago. Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis are the Artistic Directors and E. Brooke Flanagan is Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees.

Steppenwolf’s Mission: Steppenwolf strives to create thrilling, courageous and provocative art in a thoughtful and inclusive environment. We succeed when we disrupt your routine with experiences that spark curiosity, empathy and joy. We invite you to join our ensemble as we navigate, together, our complex world.,, and      


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