THE BASICS: This breezy, strongly theater-rooted play by Sarah Ruhl is part romantic comedy, part puckish mindbender, part backstage/onstage farce. There are even a few musical numbers tucked into this unique concoction! Anita Rochon directs a cast of seven. KISS (at the Shaw Festival), with its single intermission, runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The play begins in New Haven, CT, present day. He and She, forty-something actors who were each other’s first loves two decades earlier (and who haven’t been in contact since their long ago break-up) get cast opposite one other in the revival of a godawful 1930s melodrama about — surprise, surprise — the re-kindled affair of a middle-aged couple who were once each other’s passionate first loves. And this is just the beginning! Art and Life go on imitating one other, the lines between them sometimes blurring, as we are treated to domestic fireworks at He’s seedy, blast-from-the-past digs and a second wild play-within-a-play, and on to a sweet, sensible finale.
STAGE KISS is a decidedly deceptive piece of work.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: STAGE KISS is a decidedly deceptive piece of work. It plays like dinner theater, with silly (play-with-a-play) lines grossly overacted, and missed sound effects and cues (a la Noises Off) generating a steady stream of laughter. And this may be enough, on its own, to satisfy many theatergoers. But KISS is much more, so very clever in its mix-and-matching of the theatrical and “real” worlds, its daffy incorporation of philosophic and musical theater elements, that it’s a treat for the mind, as well. My guess is that Shaw himself would have liked it. Don’t look for much in the way of romance, however; for a play about lovers, past and present, and kissing, on stage and off, it gives off a surprisingly cool vibe!
I’m not going to say too much about the cast, for two reasons. 1) This is a playwright’s play, not an actor’s play. 2) On the day I attended, two of the male leads were played by understudies. The troupe is entirely competent however, with Fiona Byrne, as She, being the particular stand-out.
Under the guidance of Ms Rochon, the craziness nips along smartly. There are some delicious stage costumes by Gillian Gallow, and some nice lighting effects by Louise Guinand. Musical contributions by Thomas Ryder Payne are skillful, and and yet another asset to this production.
IN SUM: The laughs are there, certainly, but there’s plenty more to quietly wow you.
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!