Off the Cuff Review- STAGE KISS at Goodman Theatre

May 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

Hot Thespian Action

I’ve never been bananas over Sarah Ruhl.  Granted, I’ve only seen two of her plays staged (Eurydice and Orlando, at the Court earlier this year).  She manufactures a brand of whimsy that many go nuts for, one which I find sort of tiring and false.  Stage Kiss, the new Ruhl play enjoying a Goodman commission right now, is entirely different than anything I’ve seen by her.  It’s decently realistic and very ha-ha, screwball funny.  In fact, it seems like her personal love letter to the stage.

As you can read in plenty of interviews Ruhl has done in promotion for this show, the genesis of Stage Kiss was the idea of how weird it is that actors have to kiss for a living.  While in most workplaces kissing on the clock can bring in the sexual harassment lawsuits, in theatre smooching is par for the course.  Ruhl interviewed several actors and asked about how kissing another actor night after night made them feel about the other person.  It’s an interesting question that any young thespian has, and possibly why some join their high school drama club in the first place—but it’s a topic that isn’t really explored often.

Ruhl posits the question in a madcap farce that smacks of Noises Off!  A misled director helms a (fictional) creaky 1930s play that flopped on Broadway originally, but he hopes, with a few cuts and additions, he can make it sing.  The leads are two former lovers whose flame extinguished long ago.  But the repeated pseudo-love between them inspires truer feelings.  They change their lives to be together, but the line between reality and theatricality starts to clear up fast.

The cast does a great job, especially Jenny Bacon as She (the female lead) and Ross Lehman as the bumbling director.  The first act is spectacular and wickedly funny.  The second act, which takes a detour to Detroit (for realsies), is misguided.  Although the final moment between She and her husband is gorgeous, I think we could have gotten there faster.  The play, directed by Ruhl-buddy Jessica Thebus, could end at intermission and be an intriguing beast in itself.  Honestly, though, there are loads of laughs along the 2 hour journey so I can’t complain too much.

*** Stars

Running at the Goodman Theatre until June 5th.  http://www.goodmantheatre.org.

-Barry Eitel

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