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‘King of Shadows’ misses chances

Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s “King of Shadows” has a terrific hook, but the play — currently being produced at the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis — falls down in its execution, making for a frustrating, “could have been” evening.

The hook? In San Francisco, a young graduate student, Jessica, investigating homeless youth for her thesis meets Nihar, a 15-year-old who claims to have been abducted centuries ago by the “King of Shadows” and kept imprisoned until his escape to our world. Initially skeptical, Jessica is taken into Nihar’s story, with her boyfriend, skeptical cop Eric and troubled young sister Sarah drawn in as well.

The story takes a darker turn from here, delving into child abuse, survivor guilt and the apparent madness of both Nihar and Jessica. Jessica is really a trouble point here, as the plot turns on her reactions to Nihar’s tale.

Though we know of a huge tragedy in her and her sister’s life, it isn’t enough — or is not explored enough — to explain how quickly she falls for Nihar’s story, or why she acts to protect it once a darker truth is revealed.

The other problem is that Aguirre-Sacasa’s script never gives us enough reason to be drawn in by any of the characters apart from Nihar, nor does it truly explore the palpable sense of fear that the characters feel in their every day lives. (It also indulges in two of my pet peeves: making homelessness look exotic and fun; and having gay characters suddenly turn straight when they meet a member of the opposite sex — here, that’s both Nihar and Sarah).

A solid cast — led by area newcomer Qadir Khan as Nihar — does good work with the material, and director Randy Reyes crafts a quick-moving and tense production, but in the end there is too much potboiler and not enough heart for “King of Shadows” to reach its lofty ambitions.

“King of Shadows” runs through runs through Nov. 1 at the Pillsbury House Theatre Mainstage, 3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets are $13-$20. For information and reservations, call 612-825-0459 or visit online.

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