As the lights rise on Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s new play, King of Shadows, a young woman confidently announces that she’s telling “the first part of the story.” And story is always Aguirre-Sacasa’s chief talent and concern. His plays sometimes skimp on character and display only passing interest in language, but each has a sensational plot. King of Shadows opens as two characters compete over a single narrative: Jessica (Kat Foster), a grad student in social work, sits in a café with Nihar (Satya Bhabha), a homeless teen. As he talks about his life, she attempts to contain it within an academic context. He describes “tricking . . . for a place to crash.” “Yes,” she chirps back. “You have ‘survival sex,’ is what we call it.”
But as the play continues, that narrative splits. Jessica wants to hear a runaway’s familiar story of abuse, while Nihar insists that he has escaped a fairy world, ruled by the King of Shadows. Aguirre-Sacasa’s plays typically involve the supernatural—sea creatures, alien abductions, soul eaters. In his best work, he balances the fantastic content with a kind of emotional truth. But here, the characters and relationships never seem credible. (It’s unclear if that fault lies with the script, the performances, or Connie Grappo’s direction.) If only King of Shadows could make its make-believe more believable.