BWW Reviews: STAGE KISS Tickles The Funny Bone At Stark Naked Theatre
Written by Sarah Ruhl, STAGE KISS is a show within a show, a story of two actors who romantically reconnect after being apart for 15 years. Both the play and the play within a play address old love, fidelity, and the illusory qualities of connection between people who act for a living.
"In Stage Kiss, it's a question of where do the characters stop and the real people start?" says director Brandon Weinbrenner, who categorizes the play as magical realism set in modern times.
The story begins with "He" and "She" reuniting at an audition for a dusty, melodramatic 1930s play. It's awkward, they're tense with each other, it's obvious there is some baggage left over from their relationship and they clearly didn't part on good terms. But they're serious actors, so they put the emotional junk on the bag burner, much to the relief of the magnanimous yet twitchy director, played with jaunty, bow-legged hilarity by Phillip Lehl.
Weinbrenner directs STAGE KISS with wit and sensitivity, qualities that are a must for a show that is full of humorous observations about actors trying to make a show work in the midst of emotional conflicts. Anyone who's ever done theatre will recognize the unavoidable awkward moments in rehearsal, the insecurities that seem to hover as actors experiment and try to flesh out their characters, and of course, the hurtle of the stage kiss.
And there is kissing in STAGE KISS. A lot of it. (Let's just say I hope everyone in the cast is healthy and has received their flu shot.) But the great thing about these kissing scenes is that many of them are hilariously awkward because the actors are so vulnerable and honest about it. A stand-out scene is when Kim Tobin-Lehl's character, "She", is trying to create a graceful stage kiss with Kevin, played by the very funny Philip Hays. Tobin-Lehl nails it as a sensitive, befuddled actress who's trying to make sense of both a ridiculous play and her love life.
The cast handles the plentiful comedic aspects of STAGE KISS with finesse and not a little physical courage. Philip Hays is a gem in four different roles. Hapless and unassuming, he is really adorable as the understudy, smiling guilelessly between takes and trying desperately to perform a stage kiss without looking feral. Hays creates a great comedic moment when he enters as the Pimp in his white tank top and rust-colored, high waisted 1970's slacks. It's not just the clothing ensemble that makes us laugh- it's the way he employs feyness with his character's misguided idea of what it is to be tough and cool.
Luis Galindo is well-cast as "He", a red-blooded macho man whose passion sometimes gets the better of him. The chemistry between Galindo and Tobin-Lehl is admirable as the characters edge closer and closer together. Josh Morrison is hale and authoritative as the financially successful husband who has been wronged.
Ruhl writes stories with multiple layers and fresh, unexpected plot turns. STAGE KISS is full of farce and pokes fun at half-cocked story lines, but there's legitimate meaning at the core. We love artifice and fantasy, but those things eventually disappear into the ether. It's the real things that we need to hold onto.
STAGE KISS is for mature audiences only.
For tickets: http://starknakedtheatre.com/ May 28- June 20
Photo Credits: Gabriella Nissen