PHOTO: Michael Glenn (Kevin) and Dawn Ursula (She) in STAGE KISS by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels.
REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
Let me run the plot of Stage Kiss, playing at Round House Theatre through Dec 27, by you. See if it sounds familiar.
Two actors who were lovers in their younger days but have since moved on, find themselves unwittingly cast in a play together – as lovers. They rehearse; the play opens in New Haven, gets awful reviews, and closes.
All the while, the actors’ stage life is overtaking their real lives. They fall in love all over again, with disastrous consequences for their other relationships, financial situations, etc. They embark on a second life together, with initial romantic combustion, then disillusionment, remorse, and resolution.
Does this sound familiar? Very, very familiar? I thought so, too. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the pictures, hanging in the Round House lobby, of movie stars who fell in love on the set of films they were shooting together and went on to have affairs, and, in some cases, marriages, as a consequence.
Dawn Ursula (She) and Todd Scofield (as The Husband) in STAGE KISS by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels
Stage Kiss also has a play-within-a-play – two of them, actually.
The first is a stupid, but very stylish, 1930’s drawing room piece in which everyone gets to say vaguely idiotic lines, but look great as they do it in long gowns and black tie. It was a flop on Broadway in 1932, says the Director (Craig Wallace), but he is convinced that, with judicious cutting and a few good musical numbers, it may have a second chance. (Figure the odds.)
The second is a 1970’s urban drama (authored by the same Director) that aspires to be gritty and meaningful, but ends up hilariously unhinged when all of the serious stuff misfires (in more ways than one).
The problem about plays-within-plays is that, unless we have a lot of clues about where we are, the audience can get lost: are we in the play, or the play-within-the-play, or do we hear actors saying, not the lines of their character, but their real thoughts and emotions, which throw the show into violent disarray as scene partners are left with no idea of what’s coming next? Some of this is poignant, some of it very funny. You have to figure out exactly what’s going on at a fairly brisk pace.
So what do you do about a play like this? My advice: forget about the plot (and the plots-within-the-plot), and just let it wash over you. There really is a lot to enjoy in Stage Kiss; just don’t let it get meaningful.
Gregory Wooddell (He) and Dawn Ursula (She) in STAGE KISS by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels
Enjoy the clumsy mechanics of actors struggling to perfect the five-count kiss, and the outrageous consequences of out-of-synch gun-firing mechanics. Take in the utterly illogical, but superbly theatrical, sight of couples shifting loyalties while belting out “Some Enchanted Evening.”
When Stage Kiss does try to be serious – for example, when the re-ignited lovers attempt real life together in vastly reduced circumstances – the story bogs down. But luckily, there’s not much of that, so just go with it and have a good time watching theater people lampooning theater.
The ensemble is very strong. Dawn Ursula brings energy and polish to She (yes, that’s the character’s name). As He, Gregory Wooddell brings good looks, romantic quirkiness, and (in the second play-within-the-play) a decent Northern Irish accent.
Craig Wallace, as the Director, presides with authority and fussiness. As the Husband, Todd Schofield is solid and stolid, but don’t underestimate him; he has surprises. And Michael Glenn, as Kevin the understudy, and later as the Pimp, makes the most of some delicious physical comedy opportunities.
Rachel Zampelli (as Millicent), Tyasia Velines (as Millie), Gregory Wooddell (He), Craig Wallace (The Director), Dawn Ursula (She), Todd Scofield (as The Husband), and Michael Glenn (Kevin) in STAGE KISS by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels.
Special mention to Tony Cisek’s sets, which go from drab to impressive to spectacular to dingy with amazing ease, as the ever-present stage hands turn the scenery, taking us from one show to another, with brief sojourns in the land of reality.
And how about Tom Truss as the Piano Man, the silent, persistent presence who provides spot-on musical accompaniment throughout Scene One with a #2 pencil unfailingly clamped between his teeth?
That’s the essence and charm of Stage Kiss: clever scenes, nice touches, but don’t look for a lot of meaning. If you do encounter it, wait a few minutes, and it will pass.
By Sarah Ruhl; directed by Aaron Posner; set by Tony Cisek; costumes by Kelsey Hunt; lighting by Andrew R. Cissna; sound/music by James Bigbee Garver. At Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD. Through Dec 27. Running time: 2 hrs, 25 min (15 min. intermission).
Cast: Dawn Ursula, Gregory Wooddell, Craig Wallace, Michael Glenn, Todd Scofield, Tyasia Velines, Rachel Zampelli, Tom Truss, and David Mavricos.