Most people have never heard of Jack Kirby, yet the name Stan Lee rings a bell, as does Captain America, the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. Jack Kirby (nee Jacob Kurtzberg) is the creative artist behind many of the most legendary comic book characters and Sage Theatre’s King Kerby by Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente, tells his story.
The play opens to an auction of Jack Kirby’s (Robert Klein) original sketches, while he comments on how people determine its worth after you are gone. The play moves through the various stages of Kirby’s life, from him just wanting to draw as a kid and not wanting to wind up like his father. He’s a simple man who eventually meets Joe Simon (Justin Michael Carriere) who persuades him to switch companies so that they can make more money. He also tells him to live a little. Kirby takes his advice and winds up meeting his future wife Roz (Cheryl Hutton). The Second World War is brewing though, and Kirby gets drafted. Upon his return he gets back to comics and winds up working with Stan Lee (David LeReaney) creating the Fantastic Four. Kirby is a hardworking man, with a family to feed at home and that’s his primary focus. He doesn’t ‘wear the suit’, as his friend Simon puts it. And it mostly means that his name didn’t get attached to the compelling characters he created.
King Kerby isn’t a dramatic story that has tension and conflict. It is a depiction of Kirby’s life and why we don’t know that he is the creator of the characters that we love. Klein is steady and strong as Kirby and Hutton demonstrates her versatility playing several characters on stage, her Roz especially stands out. Lereaney is the unlikely villain without having to be too villainous, and Cam Ascroft fills the other roles on stage, providing a bit of humour to the narrative.
The thing about this play is that there isn’t drama that drives the narrative. There isn’t tension or antagonists. It’s all pretty mild. Which isn’t to say that Kirby’s story shouldn’t be told, but in this form, it doesn’t make for an overly compelling production. There isn’t much to be said for sound or lighting design on stage. It’s a story about Kirby’s life and why he truly is The King of the Comics. But there isn’t much to it, other than that. So if you’ve heard of Jack Kirby, then this production is for you. But if you haven’t? The production doesn’t offer much more than the story of his life, compelling as it was.
Sage Theatre’s King Kerby runs until the 23rd. More information is available online.