BWW Review: Stray Cat Theatre Presents Guillermo Calderon's KISS

BWW Review: Stray Cat Theatre Presents Guillermo Calderon's KISS

As political theatre goes, Guillermo Calderón's KISS, Stray Cat Theatre's 16th Season opener, directed by Ron May, occupies the terrain between parody and reality, melodrama and documentary, laughter and catharsis. It is a play that works on a number of levels: startling an audience out of its comfort zone, engaging it in the shared discovery of uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, revealing the barriers that must be surmounted to achieve cross-cultural understanding.

Calderón, whose early works (Neva, Diciembre, Escuela) targeted the political turmoil of his native Chile, shifts his focus Middle Eastward. The backdrop of KISS is war-torn and shell-shocked Syria.

So, what's the story then with an opening scene that is full throttle soap opera, featuring over-the-top performances by Samantha Hanna, Neda Tavassoli, Connor Wanless, and Evan Ohbayashi as confused friends and lovers? With May, giving us melodrama on steroids, replete with scenery-chewing and exaggerated musical cues, portending new plot twists?

How do we reconcile farce with the gravitas of travesty? How does this soap opera fulfill Calderón's commitment to expose the ruthlessness of the Assad regime and to connect the audience with the reality that is today's Syria?

Is it enough to know that Syrian soap operas (musalselat) have become vehicles for political expression, that suppression of the artistic voice is tantamount to the kiss of cultural death?

These are the questions, the answers to which will leave the audience in a far different frame of mind and understanding than when they entered the theatre.

They are questions, however, that require the audience to be patient and me, the reviewer, out of consideration for the playwright's intention, to refrain from disclosure of the plot's details.

KISS runs through September 30th at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Photo credit to John Groseclose

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