‘Stage Kiss’ is Very, Very Funny
Stage Kiss, a play by Sarah Ruhl, who is best known for In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) and Dead Man’s Cell Phone, opened Thursday at Manoa Valley Theatre.
Anybody who has ever had anything to do with acting, directing, or producing a play— and that may have accounted for a large part of the audience on opening night--will react at a visceral level to all the things that can go wrong with a production: the scary audition including a request for a capella singing, the first rehearsal when the leading woman realizes her leading man is a former lover, the director who doesn’t direct, asking the actors “Where do YOU think the kiss should take place?,” interruptive questions such as how to pronounce “divan.”
The audience got laughing so hard on opening night that at one point it seemed as if the they were about to go into a real “laughing jag,” and Ruhl keeps the laughs going well into the second act.
The main “issue” in this play may remind audience members of old (Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher) and recent (Brangelina) celebrity problems where marriages break up when new or old romantic entanglements crop up. What happens when two people are kissing each other—9 kisses per show, 8 shows per week, and a 4 week run means 288 passionate on-stage kisses--what do you expect? Yet telling you too much about what happens would ruin the surprises that bring on the laughter.
The play contains two plays within the play. This may be hard to explain but the PLAY is very good; the plays WITHIN the play go from bad to worse, and that is what’s so funny. As one character says about the first play within the first act, “It’s a bad sign when it takes three people to write a play.” You will be informed as to the plot lines of these two internal plays during the “auditions,” the first a 1930s drawing room comedy a la Noel Coward and the second a gritty city scene involving guns and blood packs.
The direction of Stage Kiss by Kevin Keaveney is superb, all the actors are terrific, and in an odd little extra the sets are changed by (I’m guessing) the dancers Braddoc DeCaires and Becky McGarvey who have their own little arc of falling in and out of love to the tune of some great ballads chosen by (I’m guessing) sound designer, Chad McComas. So, even the set changes got some quick applause from the audience.
Another interesting part of the production is that the set, which begins as a black empty space with only a ghost light at the front of the stage and a dressing table in the back, gradually fills with the elements of an elegant 1930s apartment during Act I, with pieces added bit by bit just as they would be during the rehearsal period. In Act II the set is the leading man’s apartment or its facsimile. The music is original to the production, composed by Amy K. Sullivan and Alan Shepard and arranged by Sullivan and Kirk Sullivan. The musicians are the Kamehameha School String Quartet whom you will see emerge at various times from occasionally bizarre locations.
The romantic leads, Sullivan and Shepard, have to run a gamut of accents, broad mid-Atlantic for the first inner play, Irish and Brooklynese for the second. I loved it when the actor asked if the director wanted northern or southern Irish. The comic timing was impeccable. (Kudos also to dialect coach David Farmer.) Allen Cole, as the Director, and Adam LeFebvre, as his assistant Kevin, also had the comic chops to deliver some very funny lines and behaviors. Playing a variety of other roles, but principally portraying the victims of the bad behavior of the leading characters, LeGrand Lawrence (husband), Lanihuli Gilbert (daughter), and Claire Fallon (girlfriend) manage to be funny while revealing their pain and anger as well.
There were a few moments when the action broke through the fourth wall to interact with the audience, but watch for the moment when the lead actress actually goes through the fifth wall. Jaw-dropping.
I recommend you go see this play for cathartic laughing. if possible, go with a theatre nut. He/she will be able to point out all the headshaking “OMG this really happens” moments. Yes! Yes! Yes!