Art Imitates Life Imitating Art Imitating Life in Laugh-A-Minute Stage Kiss
By Lauren Yarger
Watching Stage Kiss, a new play from Pulitzer-Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl (Dear Elizabeth, In the Next Room, Dead Man’s Cell Phone), made me want to seek out the playwright and give her a big kiss on both cheeks. I haven’t laughed that much at a play since last year’s Tony Award winner Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang.
In fact, there is a lot to smile about in this play.
To start off, it’s just funny. An actress known in the program only as She ( a commanding Jessica Hecht) gets a part in a really awful play:
"I want to kiss you all day!
"And I you-"
"Until I am breathless with desire. The way I was when I was eighteen. Do you remember the lake?"
"I think I hear your husband."
"Hang it all!"
"Oh, darling. How can we have been apart this long?"
"I do not know. I do not know….."
If that isn’t bad enough, the man who has been cast as her lover in the overly melodramatic play is none other then He (Dominic Fumusa), her former lover in real life. The two try to be all professional and try to keep their growing passion a secret from the befuddled, passive-aggressive director (a riotous Patrick Kerr) and her steady, dependable banker husband (Daniel Jenkins), but the stage kisses called for in the script make it very difficult. The idea of having her passionate lover pull out of the role, leaving Her at the mercy of his nervous, gay understudy, Kevin (Michael Cyril Creighton), who comes in for some hysterically funny open-mouth landings for his kisses, just isn’t an option, however. (Creighton is a hoot.)
The two finally succumb to their passions and move into His cramped, dive of an apartment, much to the distress of Her husband and daughter, Angela (Emma Galvin), and His gullible girl fiend from the Midwest, Laurie (Clea Alsip).
The happy endings of theater don’t necessarily translate to real life, however, and some difficult choices and surprises await.
Though there is a lot of humor infused throughout the script (and kudos to Ruhl for being able to write bad dialogue for the awful plays withing the play — it’s harder than you think), there also is a lot of insight and Director Rebecca Taichman strikes a nice balance between the two. The characters aren’t He and She by accident. They really are You and Me and express that something in all of us that longs to be loved and wants what we can’t have.
Neil Patel designs the set, which does double duty as locations for the characters lives and the sets for the plays. In a nice effect, one of the sets fades away as new direction is found for a life.
A few tweaks might tighten the two-hour-and-10-minute production, especially in the second act. And a broken ankle suddenly doesn’t seem to be broken at one point as the victim is able to walk around on it without a cast or any type of support. Other than that, this is one fun show. Check out the photo booth and the Kiss Wall in the lobby which add to the atmosphere.
Stage Kiss plays at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC, has been extended through Apri 6.
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