*published on 7 Mar 2014 in The EDGE
It is exciting to anticipate an evening in the theater watching a play written and directed by women.”Stage Kiss” is penned by the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony nominee Sarah Ruhl and directed by Rebecca Taichman who recently helmed “Milk Like Sugar” and Nico Muhly’s amazing opera, “Dark Sisters.” This new work is the fourth in Playwrights Horizons 2013-2014 Season and it is a breath of spring that we all yearn for.
The play might best be described as a heartfelt comedy with extreme farcical leanings. It is a must-see for anyone who has worked in theater, as one is privy to many inside jokes of rehearsal mishaps, hissy fits, diva meltdowns and oh of course, the romances.
The play opens with an audition for a remounting of a 1930’s melodrama about a woman who is dying and summons her former lover to her opulent home. The character is called She and Jessica Hecht brings a loose-limbed and even looser-lipped portrayal that for the most part wins the evening. Hecht’s accents occasionally go array, but all to laughter. She is an aging actress who has taken time off to have and raise a daughter, now she is back with a vengeance.
It turns out She is cast against a male romantic lead, He, a man with whom she actually had a long, tumultuous affair before marrying her rich husband. And so begins and ensues the play within a play. He is so perfectly embodied by the amazing Dominic Fumusa, who many fell for in “Nurse Jackie.” The fun here is that with leading man sex appeal and serious acting bones, Fumusa also gets to be a clown and ham it up.
As the sexy kissing sizzles on stage, the affair rekindles between the real characters. Of course there are the farcical glitches, where He takes a pratfall on stage and breaks his leg. The very gay understudy, hilariously portrayed by Michael Cyril Creighton, gamely goes on attempting to recreate the magic of the stage kissing with a gaping mouth like a fish about to swallow prey.
Creighton also plays a pimp, a butler and a doctor, all to giggles and guffaws. It turns out the understudy is having an affair with the director, an aging, anything-goes hippie brought to listless life by Patrick Kerr. The circles of who is kissing whom continue until the curtain falls on Act I.
In Act II She and He have left their mates and thrown their lots in together, living once again in an actor’s hovel in Hell’s Kitchen. They are approached by the director to work in his newest play about to be produced by the hilarious sounding DAT Theater of Detroit. So the action moves to Motor City. There are some twists and turns all punctuated by a heartfelt denouement and original music composed and played by Todd Almond, which adds an air of zest to the evening and a sense of real melodrama to the 1930 portion of the play.
Excellent performances are turned in by Daniel Jenkins as the very dry husband and Emma Galvin, a tiny firecracker of an actress, taking on three roles. Rebecca Taichman keeps all the action going with wonderful side bits, the stuff that goes on in rehearsal, a serious scene playing out with other actors marking dance steps in the wings. This made the often-silly play seem so vibrant.
The set works wonderfully well, sometimes putting the real audience backstage and just as often using the paying patrons as audience in the on-stage production. The piano player moves from stage to a balcony and all of this in a small stage with not a bad seat in the house.
There was great laughter and applause heating up the winter and hastening spring. The Ruhl/Taichman team are wonderful and everyone needs more farce and kissing in their lives.
“Stage Kiss” runs through March 23 at Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. For tickets and information, visit https://www.ticketcentral.com/playwrightshorizons/