Prelude To A Kiss: Till Death Do Us Part

There's an image in Craig Lucas' deceptively light comic romantic fantasy Prelude To A Kiss that most likely had a greater impact when the play premiered in 1990, but it still makes the heart sink today.  It occurs in Act II when young newlywed Peter takes a look at his young spouse and sees the frail body of an old man who hasn't long to live.

Though AIDS certainly hasn't been conquered, the number of young gay men who suddenly find themselves in committed relationships with prematurely elderly partners has at least significantly decreased since its original run, but the beauty of Prelude To A Kiss is that its uncomfortable truth can apply to any romantic relationship.  Can you stick to your vow to love someone in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, when that person's physical appearance and capabilities drastically change while the relationship is still fresh?  There's the answer we'd like to give, and for many it's sincerely true, and then there's the answer that some of us will reluctantly admit to when, for example, faced with a future of being your lover's caretaker in a sexless life together.

Prelude begins with the kind of whirlwind relationship that's a staple of romantic comedy.  The complacent Peter (Alan Tudyk) seems reasonably satisfied, if not fulfilled, with his profession of converting microfiche info into digital media while endearingly neurotic bartender Rita (Annie Parisse) has dreams of being a graphic designer, despite nagging fears of taking risks.

"How can we know…  if something happens?", Rita pleads on her wedding day, knowing her groom-to-be for less than three months.  Like the old Chinese curse, her wish is granted, though in a way no one would imagine, when an unknown old man (John Mahoney) wanders into their reception and kisses the bride.  For reasons known only to those who write lofty allegories and dumb summer movies, the souls of Rita and the man switch bodies, though she is too confused to try and communicate what happened and he is in no hurry to give up his newly-granted youth.

Baffled by the changes in his bride on their honeymoon, it isn't until they arrive home that Peter realizes the attractive and sexy woman before him does not contain the soul he fell in love with and that the Rita he wanted to spend his life with now inhabits an aged male body.

Director Daniel Sullivan's production is played in a warm romanticized impressionistic New York fantasyland.  Set designer Santo Loquasto's fanciful cutouts under starry nights are bathed in soft neon blues by lighting designer Donald Holder.  If the production lacks the sense of danger you might expect from its life-threatening and relationship-threatening plot, it's replaced by a light, fable-like quality that effortlessly charms.

Tudyk is sweet and sturdy; a fine fit for Parisse's eccentricities.  Parisse surpasses Mahoney in capturing the essence of the other actor's character once the switch is made, but Mahoney is still tender and touching as a man given to opportunity to cheat the inevitable.  James Rebhorn and Robin Bartlett make for an enjoyably funny couple in a healthy marriage as Rita's parents.

Prelude To A Kiss is the kind of play that can send you out of the theatre smiling, and then keep you awake at nights wondering.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top:  Annie Parisse and Alan Tudyk

Center:  The Company

Bottom:  Annie Parisse and John Mahoney


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From This Author Michael Dale