Sarah Ruhl’s comedy Stage Kiss is witty farce about acting, a distorting hall of mirrors where the audience is constantly teased about who, and to what end, is the actor acting and to what degree they are acting. It is about marriage, romance, affairs, and identity in a profession that sometimes has exotic demands: “What a strange job to kiss in front of people and make it look like you know each other. Or kiss someone you know in front of people and make it look like a stranger.” It turns out that a previously aborted fling with a lover can freight as much baggage as a long term marriage, something that some people will go to great lengths to escape from yet stay within the marriage.
That might sound a bit vague, but I don’t want to indulge in a menu of plot spoilers. The lead actress, Karin Elsesser, as She is flighty, sincere, rambunctious, mercurial, self-contradictory, a woman with a dozen masks who holds the play together with romantic magic. He, her lover, played by David Macharelli is alternately scheming, honest, rebellious, conforming, and so much the compulsive actor that he doesn't know who he really is. This is a play about actors having so much fun that a little of their zany mischief might rub off on the audience.
The premise of the play concerns minor plays that are so bad that actors will accept any antic role to scratch out a living. There is satire about poor scripts and melodramatic acting. Matt McQuail as the genial narcissistic un-Director who admires actors, and who harbors playwriting aspirations, handles his oblique dimness with matter-of-fact believability. Richard Chad Fey as the aspiring actor manqué carries his role with a mischievous smile. J. Scott Williams as the rich, dufus husband has his bland mask pulled off in his heart attack scene and in the suave, final reversal scene of the play where the “real beans” are spilled. Klara Gribetz (who shines in her Midwestern “Iowa” scene) and leering Rosie Koocher (who finally gets to tell her parents off) endure underwritten roles, yet make the most of their lines.
Direction by Nina A. Smith permits the vital sense of improvisation that this play so depends upon. Sets are minimalist and on opening night there was a barstool that took three unexpected bows as it tried to amplify its part to the irritation of the unflappable actors. The play, produced by Frank Arcaro, is a whimsical farce within a farce containing many repetitive rehearsal scenes that occasionally resort to slapstick and mawkish mugging. Although the first act of the play appears to be headed nowhere, it sets up the punch of the second act that delivers a sudden illuminating joke.
This is a fun adult play highly recommended for its baroque humor. Stage Kiss runs at the New Milford TheatreWorks on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through January 6 with a Sunday 2 pm matinee on December 17. Tickets may be purchased at theatreworks.us or by calling the Box Office at 860-350-6863.