La Jolla Playhouse Scores with Premiere of Billie Jean King Bio-Play

Anna Devere Smith has been a favorite of mine, especially because she has taken real events and has illuminated the people who shaped those events. Her work is uniformly significant, but I was personally affected by Twilight: Los Angeles, which was about the riots that ensued in Los Angeles after the police beating of Rodney King, not far from where I was living at the time.

Lenne Klingaman, Chilina Kennedy, and Elena Hurst
Photos by Rich Soublet

Ms. Smith specializes in including multiple voices providing perspectives on similar events, and she has taken this approach again, to great effect, in her latest play, Love All, now performing at La Jolla Playhouse. It’s a happier story than some she has written, and it contrasts the emergence of feminism in sport, a movement led by tennis star Billie Jean King (Chilina Kennedy) with the social justice movement in the U. S.

Ms. King’s story is contextualized with contemporary events, told via film clips designed by S. Katy Tucker. These clips remind audience members that tragic events influenced both Ms. King and the populace as a whole.

Chilina Kennedy and Justin Withers

Ms. King’s brand of feminism was as much economic as anything. She became aware that women tennis players were competing for prize money that was far less than that being paid to tennis players who were men. The men, as represented by a snooty Arthur Ashe (Justin Withers), not only were uninterested in the prize money differential, but they were also not interested in women’s tennis as a sport. Ms. King organized and competed against. players such as Althea Gibson (Rebecca S’Manga Frank), the French player Frankie Durr (Lenne Klingaman), Margaret Court (Allison Spratt Pearce), regarded as the game’s best woman player, and Rosie Casals (Elena Hurst), who became her doubles partner.

Her personal life was another matter. She met and married Larry King (John Kroft) before either was twenty. She realized that she was attracted to women, however, and began an affair with Marilyn Barnett (Kate Rockwell). Both Larry and Billie Jean King had affairs, but they stayed married until Billie Jean fell in love with Ilana Kloss (Bianca Amato), another doubles partner to whom she is now married.

Focusing on individual interactions, director Marc Bruni’s production helps personalize such a grand narrative. Even so, the run time is two hours and thirty minutes, including a fifteen-minute intermission. And, Ms. King’s fabled match with Bobby Riggs is hardly noted, which, actually, is probably what it deserves in the overall scheme of things.

Led by Ms. Kennedy, the ensemble is a strong one, with Ms. Pearce registering as Margaret Court and Mr. Kroft as Larry King. Wynn Harmon, as a journalist, among other roles, helps move the story along.

This world premiere production of Love All continues through July 2.

Performs Tue/Wed at 7:30pm; Thu/Fri/Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7pm; Sat/Sun at 2pm in the Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. Parking is available in the UC San Diego South Campus lot, with shuttle service provided to the theater. Tickets are available by calling (858) 550-1070 or online at


Creative credits include: Robert Brill, Scenic Designer; Ann Hould-Ward, Costume Designer; Jiyoun Chang, Lighting Designer; and Darron L. West, Sound Designer

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La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla CA 92037 USA Work Phone: 858.550.1010 Website: La Jolla Playhouse website
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