Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, enjoying its regional premiere at Round House Theatre, proves yet again that a kiss can be much more than a kiss. It may, in fact, be the most-erotic form of lovemaking, especially when it’s full-bodied (as in this play).
Certainly, passionate, realistic kissing complicates the backstage and onstage-within-onstage—lives of actors trying to put on a forgotten flop from the 1930s called The Last Kiss.
The serious elements are there, but this production of Stage Kiss, at least, excels in its lightness, charm, and humor.
Everyone knows of famous couples who became couples, breaking up homes along the way, because they appeared together in film or theater, and were required to kiss (among other things).
But Ruhl adds a new wrinkle and raises the ante further by making the romantic leads in the show actual former lovers—whose parting left a hole in the heart. Obviously, they are more susceptible than most actors to falling in love with each other, or with love, even in a flop.
Both the playwright and Round House dramaturg Jessica Pearson speak of the seriousness behind the “lightness” of the play and about “soul-crushing topics,” in Pearson’s words. Certainly, Ruhl in other works has combined humor and pathos.
The serious elements are there, but this production of Stage Kiss, at least, excels in its lightness, charm, and humor. There were more-serious moments in the second act (as the actors put on an even more improbable play within the play), but somehow, that act feels a little disjointed—writing-wise—from the first.
In any case, the audience at the December 8th, by invitation performance, laughed almost nonstop at the clever lines and smiled with recognition at the spot-on parody of theatrical auditions and rehearsals.
Stage Kiss also points out how silly acting and theater can be, but at the same time, how wonderful.
And what wonderful acting there is to relish in this production. The performers make the happenings on stage, even the melodramatic ones, seem real.
Fresh from a one-woman production at Theater J, in which she showed her incredible versatility, Dawn Ursula (She) here displays a joie de vivre, a deft comic touch, and a believable ambivalence between her husband and lover.
Gregory Wooddell (He) is delightfully manic as the passionate lover who may or not believe his amorous pursuit of She. Yet, we do feel for him when he loses out.
In spite of the comic proceedings, Todd Scofield brings pathos to the role of the husband and Harrison, representing the strength of long-term relationships.
With deadpan humor and strained patience, Craig Wallace plays the Director, who clearly wishes he hadn’t been sucked into this revival in the play.
Speak of versatility. Michael Glenn has articulate comic pauses in playing the nerdy Kevin, a doctor, butler, and the murderous pimp.
Rachel Zampelli is Millicent, but most memorable as ditzy Laurie, the lover’s former girlfriend, who is actually, in the husband’s words, “passive-aggressive.”
Tyasia Velines is the daughter, Angela; Millie; and the maid. Tom Truss has the non-speaking role of the Piano Man.
Unlike the Director in the play, who constantly tells the actors to follow their instincts, Aaron Posner brings an experienced and sure hand to the actual direction.
He keeps the comic pace moving quickly, yet letting the actors savor each funny line—of which there are many—and exasperated or lovelorn expressions.
We feel we’re watching something real, no matter how absurd.
Tony Cisek is scenic designer for a stage that evolved a few times. Kelsey Hunt’s costume design included a stunning gown for Ursula.
Andrew R. Cissna is lighting designer. James Bigbee Garver is sound designer/composer. There is a little singing, including an impassioned tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Kasey Hendricks is props master.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: 14 and up. Some language, a lot of lovemaking—mostly, of course, kissing.
Stage Kiss plays through December 27, 2015 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway Bethesda, MD 20814. For information and tickets, call 240.644.1100 or click here.