Theater Review - Stage Kiss (NY)

The whimsical playwright Sarah Ruhl and the sublime actress Jessica Hecht share a spirit that conjures the word, rueful: its definition: inspiring pity or compassion, causing feeling or expressing sorrow or regret, mournful or doleful.  In her newest work, a comedy entitled “Stage Kiss,” directed by Rebecca Taichman, the first act, delightfully introduced by The Accompanist, Todd Almond, is truly laugh-out-loud funny farce. However, the second act loses its edge, is a let-down, too jam-packed with plot. The underlying theme asks, “What happens in real life when two people play lovers on stage?” 


Ruhl has given Hecht the leading part of a wonderfully complicated woman, named “She” who returns to acting after 10 years. She's married to a financier (Daniel Jenkins, mostly wasted here) and has raised a daughter, Millie (Emma Galvin), who is now a teenager. Scene One finds “She” in a New Haven theater auditioning for “The Last Kiss,” in which the heroine has just been told she is dying. Hecht is shivery tentative and apologetic as “She” reaches into her handbag to retrieve the “Sides” she will be using, while asking The Director, a deft Patrick Kerr, to tell her about the play; she has not had time to read it.  The Director seems to have few opinions and lets everyone do what they want, even encouraging the tubby and openly gay Kevin (the amusing Michael Cyril Crieghton), to understudy the lead.  “She” gets the job, but is stunned to find that her former lover is now her co-star, whom she has to kiss over and over again.  “He,” played by Dominic Fumusa, who acquits himself well, has a girlfriend, a kindergarten teacher named Millicent (everyone is), a sweet blond played by Clea Alsip.  Although “She” resists, they, of course, fall back into love.


In the second act, “He” has broken his ankle and must hop around on crutches. “She” and “He” get terrible reviews, move together into his old ratty apartment in Michigan, and star in The Director's awful play, “I Loved You Before I Killed You” or “Blurry,” in which “She” plays a myopic prostitute and “He” is a member of the IRA.  The kissing goes on and on, until “She” realizes that she misses her husband and daughter; it is time to go home.


Sam Pinkleton's Choreography, Scenic Design by Neil Patel, lit by Peter Kaczorowski, Costumes by Susan Hilferty and Tom Watson's Wigs, particularly the red one for Jessica Hecht, are all fine.


An interesting note: Todd Almond has invented some really silly songs and at one point in the background plays the theme from Cabaret. He also, by special arrangement with Rodgers & Hammerstein: an Imagem Company, plays and sings “Some Enchanted Evening.” (Rodgers and Hammerstein II.)


“Stage Kiss” has been extended through April 6. At Playwrights Horizons.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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