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A CurtainUp Review
Prelude to a Kiss

My love is a prelude that never dies, my prelude to a kiss.— Duke Ellington's song which inspired the title of the Lucas play (the record played in the revival features Billie Holiday)
The world's a really terrible place. It's too precarious.— Rita
John Mahoney and   Annie Parisse  in Prelude to a Kiss
John Mahoney and Annie Parisse in Prelude to a Kiss (Photo: Joan Marcus)
If you think you're too old for fairy tales, I recommend an immediate trip to the American Airlines Theater to see the Roundabout's revival of Craig Lucas's irresistible Prelude to a Kiss. Like many a fairy tale this isn't a what you see is what you get happy ending story. Like the brothers Grimm, Lucas knows that what you see in such stories embodies the unseen darker fears that haunt us from childhood on—in this case the fear of aging and its accompanying losses and the ultimate fear of death.

Prelude to a Kiss IS a romantic fairy tale. It's enduring charm is that it hooks you into its boy meets girl love story and relies on the actors rather than a lot of crafty stage effects to make its fantastical body-snatching sequences work. Unlike his much darker post-Prelude plays, Lucas has not taken us into a black hole that can't let in any light. Instead he's brought off a neat trick: an enjoyable, full of laughs two hours with even the darker subtext handled with delicacy and humor and its message, while obvious, managing not to come off like a hokey Hallmark greeting card.

If you saw the original version either off or on Broadway sixteen years ago or any of its regional revivals, you don't need a plot synopsis. If not, I won't spoil the fun of your wondering how this happy ending interruptus is going to play out and limit myself to this mini summary: A cocktail party kicks off a love affair between handsome, ready for love Peter (Alan Tudyk) and Rita (Annie Parisse), a quirky insomniac who's fearful about pursing her dreams in a life where bad things can happen to good people at any moment. Soon wedding bells ring but a mysterious old man (John Mahoney) wanders into the wedding and , kisses the bride. Bingo! Peter finds himself honeymooning with a most unRita-like bride. The rest of the play deals with Rita and Peter's new take on life and love and Peter's efforts to undo the effects of that transforming kiss.

Lucas's smartly written and solidly structured script holds up very well indeed. (While Lucas wrote the play during the A.I.D.S. crisis which was aging or killing young people, we now have similar images courtesy of the Iraq war). The absurdly funny but semi-tragic events are still touching rather than silly, and even the ultimate revelation about the old man don't get in the way of a happy ending. Daniel Sullivan's sensitive direction and a cast that is attuned to the complexities of their characters offset the fact that this play is more suited to a more intimate space (like its original Broadway home, the Helen Hayes) than the Roundabout's large American Airlines Theater.

The reed-thin Annie Parisse not only captures all of Rita's neurotic charm but evokes just enough of the very different post-kiss guy/girl who, as Peter puts it, seems to have " switched channels." Alan Tudyk's Peter has survived his unstable upbringing with no more than a somewhat shy and introverted manner and is ready to jumps into the love affair without reservations. Tudyk also brings a droll puzzlement to his role as narrator.

The character and the actor portraying him, who will stay with you the longest is the John Mahoney's Old Man. Mahoney, best known as the father of the long running sitcom, Frazier but for much longer than that a fine, season stage actor, at first roams the stage silently. Later he wanders into Rita and Peter's wedding — and straight into our hearts. His portrayal of an old man in the final and most fragile stage of life is pure gold. Even a longish monologue about living long enough to watch everyone you know and love die is never maudlin. Both Mahoney and Tudyk are at once hilarious and moving during a scene when Peter makes a tentative move to act on his new awareness of the now and forever part of the marital vows.

While the play revolves around Parisse, Tudyk and Mahoney, the secondary players add enormously to this production's pleasures. James Rebhorn and Robin Bartlett are especially good as Rita's parents, originally played by Larry Bryggman and Debra Monk (the former currently having his eyes gauged out in the Public Theater's King Lear and the latter in the Broadway musical Curtains which stars one of Mahoney's TV sons, David Hyde Pierce).

Prelude to a Kiss is Lucas at his lightest and brightest. A rare combination of laughter, romance and throat tightening substance.

Small Tragedy
This Thing Of Darkness, a collaboration with David Schulner
The Dying Gaul
The Dying Gaul, second run

Playwright: Craig Lucas
Director: Daniel Sullivan.
Cast: John Mahoney (Old Man), Annie Parisse (Rita), Alan Tudyk (Peter), Robin Bartlett (Mrs. Boyle), James Rebhorn (Dr. Boyle), Francois Battiste (Tom/Jamaican Waiter), Brandon J. Dirden (Ensemble), MacIntyre Dixon (Minister), Marceline Hugot (Aunt Dorothy/Leah), Susan Pellegrino (Ensemble), Matthew Rauch (Taylor), John Rothman (Uncle Fred) and Karen Walsh (Ensemble).
Sets: Santo Loquasto
Costumes: Jane Greenwood
Lighting: Donald Holder
Sound & Original Composition: John Gromada
Running Time: 2 hours with an intermission
Roundabout/American Airlines Theatre 227 West 42nd Street,(212) 719-1300
From 2/16/07 to 4/22/07 opening 3/08/07
Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM with matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM.
Tickets: $51.25-$86.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on March 9th
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