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May 10, 2011

Sarah Ruhl's 'Stage Kiss' gives post-Juliet actors a smooch

StageKiss1.jpg
I can't wait for the battle that will break out on Broadway when the Desirees of this world realize that there's another delicious role in the works. There is nothing wrong with the aging actress that a really great role can't fix, and Sarah Ruhl's "Stage Kiss" is just the cure for that long dry agony of waiting between Juliet and Lady Macbeth, as Ruhl's leading lady puts it.

We first meet her as she is struggling to keep it together, in a priceless audition setpiece that has the audience screaming with laughter and wide open to all that follows. (The production's enjoying its world premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where the summer fireworks have obviously begun.) "Stage Kiss" is a sly and loving ode to the life of the stage, distilled to comic absurdity, but ever so deftly, retaining a seductively sober whiff of the real thing. 

The plot in brief: She gets the romantic lead in a bad '30s chestnut, only to discover that her old flame in the play is also her old flame in real life. The romp that follows is an exquisite send-up of the actor's dutiful struggle to make the imaginary seem really-really real, resulting in the classic absurdities that Ruhl explores with gusto. In effect, she is doubling down -- creating a play about a play for characters fighting demons who play characters fighting demons ... 

Anyway, it's a funhouse, but a funhouse with a warm heart. There's a delicious thread of farce in the backstage and rehearsal scenes, and yet the show is lyrical at its core. "Stage Kiss" has the kind of balance between a two-character romance and a superb ensemble of stock supporting characters that one finds in the best Astaire-Rogers movies. The stage director's a cheerful nebbish with closet acting pretensions; the male understudy's a preener, the daughter spits knives. One and all, you gotta love 'em. 

My guess is that the show will tighten somewhat on its inevitable path to Broadway, but the Goodman has done very well by Ruhl in "Stage Kiss," which has been nearly two years in development.

A pitch-perfect trio of veteran actors in the lead roles -- Jenny Bacon as She, Mark L. Montgomery as He, Ross Lehman as the Director -- has captured the humor, both broad and delicate. The show's creative team -- director Jessica Thebus, designer Todd Rosenthal and fight choreographer Nick Sandys -- have made a stylish, high-energy showcase for this delightful new work. If you have a chance to see it, by all means go.

Photo by Liz Lauren: He (Mark L. Montgomery) and She (Jenny Bacon) in Sarah Ruhl's "Stage Kiss" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. 
May 10, 2011 8:21 AM | | Comments (0)

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