A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Naturally, the play within makes this a case of life and art imitating each other. Ruhl, who previously and charmingly displayed penchant for romance with In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play , is once again in a romantic mood, deftly giving an incredible situation a quirky credibility. Her breezy and smartly satiric dialogue saves Stage Kiss from being just another addition to a genre done often enough to risk being a cliche.
Director Rebecca Taichman has steered Hecht and her seven excellent colleagues through the alternating play and play within the play. Actually it's two plays within. What's more, despite all the madcap back stage and on stage doings, there IS a theme here.
The Kiss half of the title is very much part of Ruhl's thematic intention to show that it can be more, or less, than just a kiss (contrary to the famous "As Time Goes By" lyric). Dominic Fumusa, a charismatic HE to Hecht's SHE declares that he hates kissing her on stage. As he sees it the audience merely tolerates a stage kiss because "it signifies resolution which people like to see on stage."
Fumusa's comments touch the tip of the thematic iceberg. The kissing is just one way the make-believe world of a romantic drama tends to resolve conflicts before the end, makes it tempting to commingle what happens on stage with real life, as Hecht and Fumusa's characters do.
Having the love of her youth cast opposite her in The Last Kiss is a convenient set up for the play and real life parallels. HE and SHE's love is rekindled during rehearsals for that chestnut, leaving her not wanting to be "me" but Ada Wilcox.
But the long ago love affair wasn't exactly a bed of roses as becomes evident after they end up in his squalid East Village studio and they're cast in another bad play. This one about an IRA soldier and a woman who, unbeknownst to him, is a whore is also not very good. However, it does lead to the aftermath of SHE's giving in to that temptation to abandon her marriage to once again experience the passion and excitement of another time.
The play within a play inspired philandering between SHE and HE begins with her discombobulated late arrival to audition for The Last Kiss and ends up resolving the question of where her future lies. The first act is the play's sharpest and most hilarious, but that's not to say that there aren't laugh lines throughout. It's all very clever and with topnotch production elements. Best of all are deliciously absurd performances from the director (Patrick Kerr) and a gay understudy (Michael Cyril Creighton who's equally funny in several other roles he plays). Things begin to sizzle when the Hecht and Fumusa characters kiss. . .and kiss and kiss and kiss igniting their youthful romance, first publicly and eventually in adulterous privacy.
The real life post coital scene in the irresistible HE's studio apartment visually sums up that he's still living pretty much as he did twenty years ago. That scene also sees the amusing and enlightening arrival of his current girl friend Laurie (Clea Alsip), and the adulterous SHE's husband Harry (Daniel Jenkins, expertly playing the one what you see is what you get character) and daughter Angela (Emma Galvin, in one of three roles).
Alsip gets some of Ruhl's most on target satirical lines when she commiserates with SHE and HE about their show being over ("I think I would get so tired, repeating the same thing over and over again. That's why I like teaching kindergarten. Every day is different, you never know what to expect.")
Oh, and yes, there's another sure to charm element& mdash; the music supplied live by Todd Almond. It includes a tour de force scene courtesy of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Estate's permission for him to play "Some Enchanted Evening."
Taichman's fine production and the all-around stellar performances notwithstanding, Stage Kiss loses some of its sparkle towards the end. Anyone who saw In the Next Room or The Vibator Play will see a resemblance to that play, and wish Taichman and her designers could have come up with a magical rather than somewhat mundane finale. That said, Stage Kiss is likely to leave you in a kissing mood. So give into it, grab your partner and stop off at the kissing booth in the lobby.